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M.Div., Yale Divinity School, 1979 

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the 

requirements for the degree of 



Approved By 



Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, Ed.D., Ph.D. 

Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology; 

Director of Congregational Studies 



Fredrica Harris Thotopsett, Ph.D. 
Mary Wolfe Professor of Historical Theology 


Chapter One 

Introduction 1 

Chapter Two 

Worlds of Our Making 12 

Chapter Three 

Making the Familiar Strange 19 

Chapter Four 

Applying the Constructive-developmental Scheme 24 

Chapter Five 

Making Reflection Critical 50 

Chapter Six 

Making Critical Reflection Transformational 59 

Chapter Seven 

Design and Process for Professional Development: 7 4 
a case study of power and hegemony 

Chapter Eight 

Epistemologies of Context and Collaboration 98 

Chapter Nine 

Immunity and Change 125 

Chapter Ten 

Risking life in the Two-wheeled World 134 

Appendices 142 

Bibliography 146 



For support of this project, and my own learning and growth 
through it, I am grateful to the Church of the Holy Spirit, 
Wayland, Massachusetts, for the granting of a sabbatical in 
the spring of 2001, during which time this project was 
begun, and for resources with which to begin to pursue it. 
I am further grateful for the support of the Diocese of 
Massachusetts Sabbatical and Continuing Education 
Committees, the Episcopal Divinity School, and Bishop Tom 

I would especially like to thank my advisor, Sheryl Kujawa- 
Holbrook for initial encouragement, and guidance 
throughout, and Fredrica Harris Thompsett for her thoughts 
and service as Second Reader of the thesis. 

Those with whom I have had the privilege of studying have 
been sources of endless inspiration, and I wish to thank 
them: Robert Kegan, Ian Douglas, Stephen Brookfield, 
Christopher Duraisingh, Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, Carter 
Heyward, Kwok Pui Lan, and Eleanor Drago-Severson. 

For all things, the love, care, and support of my wife and 
children is preeminent, and I owe them the deepest 
gratitude: Kim, Julia, and Rachel. 


Chapter One 


i . 

As I drove to a new students orientation session on 
the first morning of my graduate degree program, I tuned 
the car radio, habitually, to the local station that gives 
traffic reports every ten minutes. In fact, it didn't make 
a bit of difference what the traffic report said. I had to 
get there, I was going to drive regardless of the traffic 
conditions (as opposed to taking public transportation) , 
and I was going to go the way I was headed - it was the way 
I knew. From where I lived, public transportation was very 
round about, and I didn't know any other routes from my 
house to the seminary. Whether the highway was clear or 
jammed, it was the way with which I was familiar, hence the 
way I would go. 

I depend on my world being predictable in these basic 
ways; it is the way, as an adult, I negotiate otherwise 
busy mornings of getting children up, fed, and off to 
school, and myself going in the direction I need to go. 
How much more complicated my world would be were I not able 
to depend on the ways I have it put together so that I can 
function reasonably efficiently and effectively. My basic 

assumptions about the world, my constructions of it, are as 
necessary to my life as food and water. Habits are good. 
Otherwise, I, and most other adults I know, would never get 
out of bed in the morning, if first we had to question our 
assumptions at this level. We depend on the ways we have 
put the world together, the ways we understand it, to live. 
Our assumptions guide, usually unwittingly, our thinking 
about the world at many levels, from daily routines to such 
things as the way we understand the meaning of our lives 
and where we see ourselves fitting into the big picture of 
the world at large, things like gender roles, our position 
in society, things to which we believe we are entitled, and 
many more. Our constructions of the world may draw on any 
number of things - age, environment, background, training, 
abilities and gifts - but, what they come to amount to are 
epistemologies, way of knowing, thinking, and making sense, 
making meaning. As epistemologies, expressed through our 
assumptions, our world constructions at once enable us to 
live happy, productive lives, and at the same time also 
lock us into certain ways of being. Their glory is that 
they help make us who we are; the problem they present is 
also that they help make us who we are. 

So, on this bright September morning I was driving to 
graduate school, and the world was more or less the way I 
expected it to be. Then, in a moment, my day turned from 
one of orientation to disorientation, like it did for so 
many people. The date was September 11, 2001, and as I 
tuned my car radio the announcer was breaking in to say 
that a plane had just struck the World Trade Center in New 
York City. Minutes later a second plane hit the other 
tower. "We have a report that a plane has crashed at the 
Pentagon, and another in Pennsylvania. Clearly, this is 
some kind of attack,' 7 the announcer said. The words are 
seared in my memory, as they are for so many. 

In my world, the world as I, like many, had it 

constructed, the United States of America did not get 

attacked, at least not on its own territory. Planes might 

occasionally get hijacked, but their hijackers didn't crash 

them into buildings, horrifically killing thousands of 

innocent people. Planes might occasionally crash because 

of technical failures or even human errors, but commercial 

passenger liners, built and intended for the peaceful 

purpose of conveying people quickly across the country, do 

not get turned into flying bombs by agents of a malevolent 

terrorist organization who somehow got training to fly 


jets. And tall buildings, although someone might put a 

bomb in a car or truck and set it off next to or beneath 

them, are built to withstand all sorts of stresses without 

falling down. 

These assumptions and numerous others fell apart on 

9/11. Among the many crises that the day occasioned was a 

crisis of knowing. Particularly for adult Americans, it 

was a crisis of thinking about our position in the world. 

It presented us with a profound problem. 9/11 dislodged 

Americans' feelings of invulnerability in the world; like 

so much of the rest of the world we now knew what it was 

like to live with the reality of terrorism in our own 

country. 9/11 represented a disorientation from the world 

as most Americans had it constructed before that day. It 

presented a dilemma, the challenge of which was to put the 

world back together again, to reconstruct it, in ways that 

would include, and try to account for, this new reality. 

So significant, perhaps, was the disorientation of 9/11 

that the process of reconstructing the world might amount 

to more than simply including this new information in one' s 

cache of experiences and reasonings. It might require new 

ways of thinking, new epistemologies, different ways of 

making meaning, new frames, schemes, and perspectives, now 


that old ones were in shambles. It would even require, 

perhaps, new ways of being. 

For myself, I think the events of September 11, 2001 

did trigger something of this kind of epistemic 

reconstruction. I now not only know new things, but I also 

know them differently. Though the case is difficult to 

press too far, it may nonetheless be illustrative of the 

kind of adult growth and development that can be prompted 

by crises in our ways of constructing and knowing the 

world. For example, I now think of the world in ways that 

seem to me to try to account for the new reality of 9/11 

and the world's increased complexity. Indeed, I am more 

ready to entertain a world of simultaneous realities, such 

as extraordinary self-sacrifice in both its most heroic and 

most evil manifestations, seen at the same time. I no 

longer think of myself as living in an invulnerable 

country; invulnerability itself seems a much more relative 

term. My thinking about the world now seems inseparable 

from the dialogue that must take place among people who see 

the world in a broad range of different ways. Such a list 

of changes could go on. While these changes may otherwise 

be attributable to the simple fact that I am now two years 

older, or to some other factor, and are probably buoyed by 


a host of other factors in my life and culture, the fact 
that I associate them with 9/11 is itself significant. It 
is part of a growth and development that somehow affects 
every other aspect of my life, not the least of which is my 
life as an ordained minister of the Episcopal Church, in 
which I am continually developing as a professional. 

It is to approaches to professional development, and 
the role of designs and processes in adult learning, that I 
will turn shortly. But, first, another story suggestive of 
ways we learn and grow. 


"Daddy," my seven-year-old daughter says to me, "all 

the other kids are riding two-wheelers. I want you to take 

the training wheels off my bike." To be sure, not all 

knowing is precipitated by tragedies, or world-shattering 

crises on national or global levels. As I watch my young 

daughter learning to ride her bicycle, for the first time 

without training wheels, and precipitated in part by a 

crisis of sorts in her peer relationships, I am struck by 

how similar and different her learning is as a child of 

seven and mine as an adult of fifty. While to her the 

world around is largely new and uncharted, particularly the 

world of two-wheeled bike riding, and to me it is perhaps 


better known, still to learn and grow in a new direction 
involves for her as well as for me unlearning some of the 
past. And, like with many things in life, the goal is more 
easily stated than accomplished. 

How strange and unnatural is the challenge of learning 
to ride a two-wheeled bike. Surely at first it is 
disorienting, in a sense, from everything my daughter knew 
before about riding a bike. Old assumptions are suddenly 
exposed. Now she has to learn to balance in a way she 
never did before. But, not only does she have to learn to 
balance on this object that won't stay still and now has no 
side supports, she also has to learn to balance and peddle 
at the same time, to brake and vary her speed while 
balancing, to shift her weight as she turns, to compensate 
quickly if she feels herself losing balance, and to fall as 
gently and gracefully as possible when the inevitable 
happens ! 

The properties of physics, seemingly simple things 

like balance and motion, otherwise so taken for granted, 

suddenly present my daughter with complex problems and 

dilemmas, and the necessity for new learning. It's a whole 

new world, this world of two-wheeled bike riding: no more 

relying on training wheels to protect you in a careless 


moment of inattention to what you are doing, a new set of 

skills to acquire and incorporate into your seven-year-old 

repertoire, and a new way of thinking about the world and 

perhaps also yourself and your place in it. Not only do 

you now have new skills, you also are now a different 

person; you are someone who rides a two-wheeled bicycle, 

whose range of experience and ability henceforth includes 

this very significant achievement; at seven it's as good as 

any doctorate. In some degree it changes the way you think 

of the world, make sense of it, and of yourself in it. How 

do you do it; how do you accomplish this learning? 

To enter this new world of two-wheeled bike riding you 

have to learn some things and you have to unlearn others. 

You have to learn the necessary new skills, things like 

balance, motion, etc . You also have to unlearn your 

previous reliance on training wheels, and perhaps some part 

of your prior self-conception as a little kid. But, 

somehow or another, your world is changed; it has become 

bigger, or at least different, and you have to grow, 

change, and think differently in order to function 

creatively in it. Your challenge now is that you have to 

reconstruct your world so as to include yourself as one who 

rides a two-wheeled bike. Some supports, bridges to this 


new world, help a lot. Perhaps it helps starting off on 

the lawn, where, when you fall, at least you fall on the 

soft grass. Perhaps it helps to have another person hold 

the bike and steady you for a time or two while you begin 

to get used to the new feeling of riding without the 

training wheels. Maybe it helps to watch someone else do 

it. Aspects of your prior experiences of bike riding, and 

maybe the memory of learning to ride the two-wheeler with 

the training wheels a year or two ago, can also help you 

enter this new realm; you may in fact draw on those 

experiences as much as work to transcend them. But, 

virtually whatever it takes to enter this new world, you 

will do it, because this amazing world of two-wheeled bike 

riding is where you want to be; it's where in a certain 

sense you need to be. "Dad," my daughter says; "it's 

embarrassing not riding a two-wheeler!" Next she'll be 

asking for a bigger bike! 


The aim of this project is to put forth an approach to 

learning and teaching for professional development and 

continuing professional education among clergy in the 

Episcopal Church. Its interests are in educational issues 

at stake in the design and process of professional 


development events for clergy, and its hope is to elucidate 
some of those issues. What educational issues are involved 
in designing effective professional development events for 
clergy? What kinds of assumptions are behind whatever 
approaches we may take to design and process? How can we 
become more aware of them? What kinds of practices for 
learning and teaching encourage critical reflection and the 
possibility for transformation? How can critically 
reflective practices serve us in the creation and 
presentation of professional development events? What 
challenges and supports are needed in the design and 
process of professional development events? What issues 
are presented by the diversity of ways of knowing 
represented by clergy at such events? How can the 
processes for such events foster a self-understanding among 
clergy of themselves as a learning community? What 
understandings of adult development might inform learning 
and teaching for the professional development and 
continuing education of Episcopal clergy? What are the 
implications of such understandings for a practical 
theology of professional development education in the 
postmodern context of the contemporary American Church? 


While the approach suggested here may be transferable 
to other venues, it is rooted in experience with the 
Diocese of Massachusetts. This project looks largely at 
educational theory, with some examples that demonstrate 
practical application, but it does not seek to propose 
specific curricula. The interest here is in how we learn 
and grow as adults, how we most helpfully encourage others 
to learn and grow, and how we can translate those insights 
to the church. As we approach professional development for 
clergy in the church, how do we foster and support what 
Robert Kegan, in constructive-developmental psychology, 
calls transformational learning? Indeed, what do we mean 
by transformational learning? How might attention to 
reflective practice and transformational learning challenge 
and support clergy in their development as leaders? How do 
we promote the development of what Peter Senge and others 
call learning communities? From what connections between 
understandings of our general development as adults and 
understandings of our development as professionals can we 
benefit as we do the work of clergy professional 
development in the church? These are among the questions 
this project seeks to address. 


Chapter Two 

Worlds of Our Making 

i . 

Wittingly or not, we all make up the worlds in which 
we live. We construct the worlds we live in, and even more 
importantly, for better or worse, we rely on those 
constructions. Because we have constructed our worlds, we 
can expect them to be a certain way. Usually that helps us 
live our days efficiently and productively, if not also, in 
a sense, habitually. Though I usually wouldn't give it a 
second thought, or even a first, I have constructed the 
world of my morning routine, even the way I drive to my 
seminary, such that I just do it that way; it's not 
something over which I ponder. Having satisfactorily 
learned some time before how to ride her bicycle with its 
training wheels, my daughter doesn't give a second thought 
to how to ride her bike when that's what she's decided she 
wants to do; she just gets on the bike and does it. 
Likewise it is with innumerable habits, world 
constructions, upon which we all rely day in and day out, 
until something challenges them. 

The ways we have made up our worlds are represented in 

our assumptions about it, off-hand and subconscious as they 


may largely be. Again, we usually are not thinking about 

our assumptions. Rather, having given ourselves over to 

them, we are subject to them. We have to be. They are 

sort of our autopilot system. Otherwise, as in the 

previous examples, we would never get anywhere. 

We are all, then, subject to our assumptions. We are 

their subjects. We live under them. We are guided and led 

by them. A great many of them serve us well, and if we 

were to think about them we would likely go a long way in 

calling them good. Whether it is that my route will 

eventually get me to my destination, that my daughter' s 

training wheels will support her, that my vestry will 

support my ministry in my parish, that the parishes will 

support the bishop's work in the diocese, and vice versa , 

or that we know what we mean when we use a word like 

"mission.' 7 Most of the time most of us like living under 

our assumptions. We like the worlds we have made for 

ourselves. We are comfortable in them, and at the least 

they are better than the unknown world. They are the 

contexts in which we are embedded, often in a positive 

sense. They are where we work, play, raise our families, 

have our friends, and live our lives; they are where we 

live, move, and have our being. 


To change and grow, however, to learn, we have to 

unmake the worlds we have made, we have to unconstruct our 

constructions. When we do this, we may become more aware 

of some of the assumptions upon which our prior world 

constructions rested. We may become more aware of some of 

the assumptions that underlay our previous ways of making 

sense of our world. Sometimes events beyond our control 

may do some of this work of unmaking our worlds, or at 

least profoundly challenging them, as I have suggested 9/11 

did mine. Sometimes the impetus may come from within, or 

from others around us, such as in the case of my daughter's 

desire to have the training wheels taken off her bike. 

However they occur, they are times perhaps not unlike those 

in the experience of the ancient Hebrews when paths of life 

and paths of death are set before us. They can, of course, 

be transitions too difficult to accomplish; they can lead 

to dysfunction or worse. But, they can also be rich 

opportunities for growth and learning; they can be 

transformational moments, occasions to remake the world and 

even one's way of understanding it. They can, even as 

crises, be put in the service of educational and 

developmental purposes. The work of educators is to help 

them be these life-giving paths, and we shall shortly see 


how that work can be done in the area of clergy 

professional development. First, a few examples of worlds 

in which clergy can find themselves embedded. 


As a priest and rector of a parish, I am embedded in 

my context. I hold certain self-understandings of what it 

is to be a priest and rector: pastor, teacher, spiritual 

guide, presider at liturgy, administrator, convener of the 

vestry, and member of the diocese. I can hardly help, too, 

but be influenced in how I see the world by the place in 

which I live and work: suburban, comparatively affluent, 

work-driven, valuing of education, a mid-sized community 

with a mid-sized Episcopal parish of people who generally 

see themselves as middle-of-the-road Episcopalians and 

Americans if not also people in general. In the context of 

my world as I am embedded in it and have made it up 

conceptually, I operate out of all sorts of assumptions as 

I go about my professional life in this place. I assume 

that the people I serve want and need the church' s ministry 

as I offer it. I assume this includes both challenging and 

supporting the values I see them holding. I assume this 

means helping the people I serve participate in the 

church's work in the world. Indeed, I assume that service, 


one way or another, is a foundational principle of 


There may, however, be instances in which one of my 

assumptions is in disjunction or conflict with different 

assumptions held, perhaps just as habitually and 

unwittingly, but with equally good intentions, by people I 

serve. My assumptions may preclude my understanding their 

expectations of me; their assumptions may preclude a 

different understanding of their role or mine. An example 

might be my assumption about the meaning of the word 

"minister." I assume "minister" means any baptized 

Christian, and is something all Christians do. For many of 

my parishioners, however, "minister" has the very specific 

meaning of the ordained person, and they assume that when 

one is speaking of a minister it is about an ordained 

person that one is speaking. In the church, people 

frequently speak off-handedly of the ordained leader of a 

congregation as "the minister" ( e.g. "the Rev. Ms. Jones is 

x the minister' at St. Alban' s Church"). The use of the 

term "minister" as synonymous with the ordained person 

became entrenched over a long time; it became a traditional 

way of referring to the ordained leader. Moreover, the 

idea of ministry as lodged in the work of the ordained 


person became embedded in, part of the assumptive world, of 

church culture. It became the usual way of describing, 

summarizing quickly, the work of an ordained person ("he's 

a minister;" "he's called to the ministry," "Fr. Smith does 

ministry") . Further still, many people naturally accept 

the notion that a title should identify a certain kind of 

leader, based on our experience in a wider world where 

titles and credentials often translate into particular 

roles and identify specific authorities. We like the world 

to be organized this way because it works for us in so many 

venues. But it also limits our understandings and can put 

us in conflict. It prevents us from seeing things 

differently, and can limit the work we hope to do. It may 

seem as natural to think of the ministers in churches as 

the ordained persons, as to think of the ministers as all 

the baptized people. But, when we think further, these 

understandings, if left unexamined, can fail us, if what we 

are to be about is truly learning, growing, and developing 

as a community. They can restrict what we otherwise want 

to affirm as the calling of all Christians to be and do in 

the world. To see the ministry differently from either 

side, indeed to ask how and why it is that we have 

constructed these particular sides as sides, and then 


eventually to redefine who and what the ministers are, 
requires exposing the assumptions behind the prior ideas, 
and making room for alternative understandings. With 
respect to clergy leadership in particular, pastoral 
ministry inattentive to the power of assumptions to 
conflict is unlikely to be helpful, or welcomed, for long. 
Our assumptions both make up our world and make it possible 
for us to operate in it, and also limit our vision and 
perspective in it. To change and grow we need to know our 


■ ' ' ■ 

Chapter Three 

Making the Familiar Strange 

Robert Kegan begins his seminar at Harvard' s Graduate 

School of Education by saying, "In the education of 

children our aim is to make the strange world familiar; in 

adult education our aim is to make the familiar world 

strange." Robert Kegan' s point is that the beginning of 

our learning as adults involves becoming aware of the 

assumptions upon which we have constructed our world and 

the ways we make sense of it, the ways we make meaning. So 

familiar do our assumptions and ways of meaning making 

become to us as adults that we usually are not conscious of 

them. To be conscious of them all the time would be 

maddening; we wouldn't get up in the morning, and certainly 

couldn't do something as complicated as ride a bike or do 

ministry. To learn and grow we need to become aware of the 

worlds we have made for ourselves, and of the 

epistemologies, the ways of knowing, out of which we 

operate. Becoming aware helps us understand why we reacted 

the way we did in a given situation, and makes it possible 

for us to change our world constructions, even to transform 

our ways of knowing. In truth, the process of learning and 

growing is life-long. To accomplish this learning and 


growth, however, we need to get some distance from our all- 
too-familiar assumptive worlds; they need to become, in a 
sense, strange to us, so that it can be as if the world 
were somehow new to us again. 

Kegan' s theoretical framework, called constructive- 
developmental psychology, is rooted in subject-object 
theory, the philosophic distinction between subject and 
object. 1 Subject, in Kegan' s use of the term, means that to 
which we are subject, such as all our sub-conscious, off- 
hand, taken-for-granted, world-constructing/supporting 
assumptions. We are, literally, subject to these things, 
unaware. In another way of speaking, Kegan says these are 
the things that "have" us; we are their subjects. Object, 
on the other hand, as Kegan uses the term, means, that 
which we have. These are things that we hold objectively, 
of which we are conscious, aware, from which we have 
obtained some objective distance and perspective, are able 
to examine, and over which we have control. Learning, 
then, has to do with the process of moving things from 
subject to object, form them having us to us having them. 
For example, then, before 9/11 the notion of America the 

1 For a full explication of Kegan' s theory, see Robert Kegan , The 
Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development , Cambridge, 
MA: Harvard University Press, 1982. 


invulnerable "had" me; since 9/11 I have it. Learning has 

to do with coming to hold our assumptions as object, rather 

than being subject to them. Learning has to do with 

reconstructing our worlds based on increased knowledge and 

understanding of our previous constructions of them. 

There is more, though, to learning than merely moving 

our assumptions from the position of subject to that of 

object. There come points at which the necessity to move 

things from subject to object may out strip our mental 

capacity to do so. The demand is too great, and our 

previous ways of knowing, our epistemological frameworks, 

are not adequate to the task. There is a conflict between 

capacity and demand. It is at this point that the 

developmental work of transformational learning becomes 

necessary. The adult learning task here is not only to 

reconstruct the world, but also to change the form of our 

understanding of it as we grow, to change the fundamental 

way we make up and know the world as we develop, so as to 

enable us to account for new realities differently. 

Because adult learning, then, encompasses both constructive 

and developmental work, both making and growing, Kegan 

calls this way of understanding its psychology 

"constructive-developmental . " 


Many things can prompt the necessity for this kind of 
adult learning and growth. Generally, there is a crisis of 
some sort. In his book In Over Our Heads: The Mental 
Demands of Modern Life 2 Robert Kegan gives several examples 
from everyday life in so called "postmodern" American 
society of how the pace, complexity, and pressure of 
expectations many people experience in their lives can out- 
strip their mental capacities to handle these demands. To 
adapt successfully, they need to reconstruct their world 
and transform their way of knowing it, making meaning in 
it. When there is a crisis - it may be such as when the 
demands of work, family, relationships, various 
responsibilities, etc. collide -one's embeddedness in the 
world as one had it constructed, and in one' s way of 
knowing it, is exposed. The world ceases to work, in a 
sense it falls apart. At the least, the "durability," as 
Kegan use the term, of its prior form is so strained as to 
begin to break down. Transformation may not necessarily 
happen, for the possibility of dysfunction is just as real. 
But, the moment is full of potential for growth and 
development. Transformation, here in the literal meaning 

2 Robert Kegan, In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life , 
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. 


of the word as to "trans-form" - to change form and way of 
knowing, is immanently possible. The moment is rich, and 
much of what will make the transformation successful, if it 
is to be, will have to do with the kinds and quality of 
supports that are available or can be put in place as 
bridges, appropriate to the particular learner, between the 
two forms at this critical moment. We will next see how 
some of the insights of constructive-developmental 
psychology might inform the tasks of clergy professional 
development . 


Chapter Four 
Applying the Constructive-developmental Scheme 

i . 

Robert Kegan' s constructive-developmental scheme is 
readily transferable and highly suggestive for the concerns 
of adult education and clergy professional development. 
Particularly, Kegan' s scheme may be a useful way of 
beginning to think about how to approach professional 
development in the church for Episcopal clergy. A view of 
adult development based in constructive-developmental 
psychology might inform or help shape educational 
processes, strategies, for continuing education for 
Episcopal clergy. How might this be? What kind of 
supports might encourage and sustain transformational 
learning in this context, and help equip clergy who seek to 
engage creatively the challenges of ministry in postmodern 
society? What supportive structures might both enable 
their own growth and development, and enhance their 
effectiveness in ministry with the congregations and 
communities they serve? 


Consider as hypothetical cases the rectors of three 

different Episcopal parishes, all members of the same 


diocese. All have been ordained at least five years, and 

served in at least one previous position. Each is the sole 

priest serving his or her congregation, and has been in his 

or her present position more than two years. They are not 

beginners, but have significant experience behind them. 

They are bright, well-trained, highly motivated clergy, 

committed to their chosen work. 

Consider John. John is the rector of a suburban 

parish that by Episcopal church standards is slightly 

smaller than mid-sized, comprised of approximately eighty 

families or individual members, and normally draws 

approximately 100 people to its Sunday morning service. 

John's parish is largely white and at least middle-class, 

but by no means entirely so; though definitely in the 

minority, a few of John's parishioners are African-American 

and Asian-American. On the surface John's parish appears 

to be centered on the needs of families, many of them with 

children. In fact, there are many families, of various 

configurations, in John's parish, and many have children 

who participate in programs such as Sunday school, youth 

group, music, acolytes, etc . Children and family life are 

important aspects of John's parish, as they are of the 

wider community in which his parish is situated. Yet, even 



here, stereotypes are difficult to maintain. Among the 

families with children in John's parish, some are 

traditional two-parent households, but many would be 

characterized in other ways. In a significant number of 

cases, only one of the two parents is actively involved in 

the parish and responsible for the children's involvement. 

Divorce is a reality in some, with one or both parents 

having remarried after divorce, or in other instances a 

divorced parent is raising the children singly. Among the 

single-parent families are also one in which a young 

widower is raising the children, and another in which the 

grandparents are raising the child. Yet another family is 

a lesbian couple with two young children. Regardless of 

their configuration, in virtually all these families each 

of the parents works at least part-time outside the home. 

Rare to non-existent among these is a family in which one 

parent works while the other stays home with the children. 

While the family aspect of John's parish is certainly 

significant, it is by no means the complete picture. More 

than a third of the parish is young couples, older couples 

with grown children or who never had children, and a large 

group of single people. Among the singles, a few are 

young, but the majority are older, many of them are widows 


and a few widowers, some never married, and some 
functionally single, in that they belong to the parish but 
their spouses do not. 

John's parish has experienced modest numerical growth 
in recent years, but more significant than its change in 
size has been its change in composition and lifestyle. 
Both reflect changes in the wider community, and have 
implications for the mission John's parish engages, how it 
is called to serve its members and the world beyond, and 
for John's role in the parish. Work, both paid and 
volunteer, has been a big part of these changes. Almost 
everyone, including retired members, works, leaving less 
time than even a generation ago for traditional church 
activities, be they outreach, music, education, or even 
simple parish fellowship. Volunteers are hard to find. 
Children too are heavily scheduled; church being but one of 
many parts of their lives, and often not the most visible. 
Many of John's parishioners, though, remember a time when 
life seemed less complex, and, through their expectations 
of John, they often act as if it were still so. Some 
remember a parish comprised not so long ago mostly of two- 
parent, single income-earner families, a parish 

characterized by a traditional Sunday liturgy during which 


children were occupied elsewhere in Sunday school, one in 

which many routine tasks were handled by volunteers 

(usually women) , and where the rector could even be 

expected to call regularly on parishioners in their homes. 

Some people's expectations of John in his role as rector 

still stem from this old model, and indeed John often finds 

himself orienting his week to week work life more or less 

around these expectations, regardless of how out of step 

and in conflict they may be with what he otherwise knows 

the real lives of most of his parishioners to be like, and 

with his own better sense of what effective, relevant 

ministry might actually be about. Nonetheless, on one 

level, John likes doing these more traditional ministries. 

He gets high marks from his parishioners when he does, and 

that feels good. On another level, though, he knows that 

such newcomers as have come to his parish have been 

attracted by the contemporary feel of its worship, the 

thoughtful attention paid in education and preaching to 

current issues of spirituality, social concern, questions 

of ethics and value, and the intergenerational nature of 

the parish's community life. John knows, too, that even 

long-time parishioners are pleased to see newer, younger 

members finding a place in their parish. Still, John often 


feels caught between worlds, as it were, responding both to 

an older model of ministry and to a newer one, yet 

recognizing the impossibility of identifying completely 

with either. He sees his work somehow to be pastor to all 

these people, and overseer of a broad range of programs 

responsive to their many and varied needs. 

Consider next the rector of another parish, Susan. 

Susan is the part-time rector of a smaller parish in a more 

urban-suburban environment. As a part-time rector, Susan 

is paid at a rate 3/4 of that which a full-time rector of a 

parish the same size as hers would be paid. Though she is 

conscientious and careful about her stewardship of the time 

she devotes to her parish relative to that for which she is 

compensated, she often works what amounts to a full-time 

week; the professional expectations of her are much the 

same as of her full-time colleagues. Her parish used to be 

much larger and able to support a full-time priest, as the 

disproportionate size of its now-aging building indicates. 

Her parishioners are a mix of blue collar, lower middle, 

and middle classes, largely white, and, like John's parish, 

a mix of families and individual members, about thirty-five 

units, and with an average Sunday attendance of about sixty 

or sixty-five people. Susan's parish, in contrast to 


John's, is rapidly growing numerically. This growth is 
welcome by young and old alike, because the alternative is 
to face dwindling numbers and perhaps the eventual closing 
of the parish. This change, too, has its costs, though. 
In order to support Susan's work, the parish has had to dip 
heavily into its modest endowment, and that kind of 
financing cannot go on indefinitely. Susan feels the 
pressure of people's expectations that she be the one to 
get and retain new members. Although she teaches that this 
is everyone's work in the parish, she catches herself 
buying into this expectation more often and in more ways 
than she would like. When a prospective new member does 
not stay, she feels personally responsible. She finds 
herself attending to the numerous tasks of a smaller 
parish, ones that should be handled by lay people, in order 
to make the parish seem welcoming to newcomers. But, 
spending so much of her weekly 3/4 time on these nuts-and- 
bolts activities leaves her, many weeks, with too little 
time to do the truly pastoral work she otherwise knows she 
is there to do. She tries to recruit the laity to share 
more of this new member ministry, but they are busy and 
already stretched so thin that Susan finds them often 

undependable to do many of the additional things to which 


they initially agree. The pressure of finances, again, is 
never far away, and while Susan feels she should somehow be 
a more spiritual presence in the parish, she finds herself 
driven more than she would like by the necessity to grow. 

Another side, however, of the professional pressure- 
cooker that is Susan's parish is that she actually gets a 
lot out of her work in this parish. Much of the parish's 
recent growth is attributable to Susan's efforts; that is 
to her credit, and she gets high marks for this not only 
from long-time parishioners but also from diocesan leaders 
who see creative, energetic ministry turning around a dying 
parish. There is something, too, about the crisis 
atmosphere of Susan's parish that, as much as it drains 
her, also feeds her and energizes her to keep it going. 
Both her success and her frustration are entwined in the 
parish's remarkable growth. But, what will Susan do when 
that growth levels off, as it inevitably will at some 
point, and very different dynamics, perhaps such as some of 
those operating in John's parish, reemerge and present 
their distinctive challenges? 

Thirdly, consider Tom. Tom is rector of a city 

parish, numerically about the same size as John's, but very 

different in some ways from both John's and Susan's. 




Unlike John's and Susan's, which normally would operate out 

of current pledges and modest endowment incomes, Tom's 

parish is heavily endowed, and able to support not only 

Tom's work but a number of urban programs, particularly 

outreach ministries, with relatively few pledges. Tom's 

parish has been changing over the past generation. It has 

a sizable Hispanic component, an active gay and lesbian 

ministry, after-school programs in partnership with other 

churches and community organizations, and numerous other 

social ministries. From the outside Tom's parish has the 

appearance of a place where a lot is going on. Indeed, a 

lot is going on, and Tom thrives on it. He is in the 

middle of it, and at least the titular leader of it. The 

other side of Tom's experience of his own parish, though, 

and of his work in it, is that it often feels unfocused and 

scattered. There is so much going on, but does it all fit 

together somehow; or is it supposed to? And how can he 

hold onto it all? Tom is committed to the many projects of 

his parish, he wants to see a lot happening, and he wants 

to support the special need each program meets. Tom often 

wonders, though, about their real relationship to the 

parish. How connected are they, actually, to the parish, 

to the people who worship there week-by-week? He often 


feels that, as part of the parish they should be more 

integrated into its life, perhaps subsumed under a larger 

vision that he should be providing. On the other hand, he 

wonders just as often if these programs aren't just as 

effective, maybe more so, existing as they do in more 

tangential relation to the parish. In his own inner 

conversation with himself on this subject, he wonders what 

his function in this situation really is. Is he a priest, 

a social worker, a grant-writer; what is he? 


What would professional development mean for these 

priests, and their many colleagues in similar situations? 

What kind of professional development would be most useful 

to them, in the deep senses of helping them examine the 

ways they are making meaning of their lives, particularly 

their professional lives, and of helping them make meaning 

in new ways that might fit more closely with the worlds in 

which they are actually living, where they are embedded? 

What sort of continuing education would help them better 

understand, and live more richly into the lives of these 

communities, and into their own lives? What would help 

them lead better, and more effectively encourage the 

overall growth of their parishes? What would help them 


reflect on their practice, and support their 
transformational learning, learning such as makes for 
fundamental, permanent changes in persons' ways of thinking 
and acting, both in their professional lives in 
organizations and maybe also in their personal lives? 

Constructive-developmental psychology would have us 
appreciate the significance of being embedded in the world 
where one is. Robert Kegan calls the places where we are 
embedded in the world "holding environments." 1 Holding 
environments can be both those places that keep us where we 
are, and also those that support us as we learn and grow. 
In the cases of these rectors, their lives are embedded, at 
least professionally, in the parishes they serve, and, in 
another sense, in their profession, the world of being a 
priest and a rector. Constructive-developmental psychology 
would have us understand possible ways of making meaning, 
of constructing these worlds, by drawing attention to 
distinctions between that to which the meaning maker is 
subject, and that which s/he holds as object. The 
constructive-developmental approach distinguishes 
psychologically between aspects of the world that have the 

1 Robert Kegan , The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human 
Development , Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982, 115-116, 


individual, to which s/he responds subjectively, and those 
that s/he has objectively and can step back from, look at, 
and operate upon. 

In the cases of John, Susan, and Tom, it may be 
possible to suggest some of the things to which each may be 
subject in his or her professional environment, and some 
which each perhaps holds as object. We may be able to get 
some sense of the conflict each may be experiencing between 
the demands being placed on each of them and the capacities 
each is bringing to meet those demands. Suggesting the 
possibility of making subject-object distinctions here, and 
identifying assumptions, may then be useful in beginning to 
develop possible processes for professional development. 
It may suggest some growing edges for these clergy, and 
perhaps give clues as to the kinds of challenges and 
supports that would be appropriate to help them accomplish 
the kinds of transformational learning for which their 
lives are affording them opportunities. 

Take John as an example first. John perhaps feels 

caught between worlds, between an older world of Father 

( i.e., rector) knows best, and a newer world alive with the 

diversity of lifestyle and commitments embodied by his 

parishioners. John is embedded in this world. In a sense, 


he is subject to its competing expectations, its "hidden 

curricula," as Robert Kegan sometimes calls it in his 

classroom, meaning its implicit expectations and program. 

While John's time might better be spent, for example, 

arranging a support group for children of divorced parents, 

or planning an innovative series of services of worship for 

the next liturgical season that would include those 

children in prominent ways, he feels he ought to make a few 

social house calls on long-time members, or maintain the 

Sunday liturgy more or less in its traditional format, 

which he knows won't rock the boat. If he does rock the 

boat, he fears, the easily-disgruntled will begin to 

complain behind his back, and the work he has been able to 

accomplish over several years in the parish will start to 

come undone. John is subject to his fear, in this example, 

and his action betrays his subjectivity. 

There is also, though, in the same example, that of 

which John may be seen to be the author, that which he has 

objectively, holds autonomously, and upon which he acts 

deliberately. In fact, in a deeper, subtler way, it may 

even be seen to be the same thing as that to which he was 

seen above to be subject. He does not make the house 

calls, or maintain the Sunday liturgy, at all unaware of 


the costs of doing that or of the trade-offs involved. He 

knows that, within the dynamics of his parish, making a few 

house calls, or maintaining some traditional semblance in 

the Sunday liturgy, is what makes possible such 

opportunities as there may also be for working with 

children who need special support, or for incorporating 

substantive liturgical changes over time. John might be 

holding this knowledge objectively, and using it to inform 

the on-going evolution of his own plan for how he will 

minister in his parish. 

A similar perspective on subject-object relations can 

be seen in the cases of Susan and Tom. Susan is subject to 

people's expectation that she be the one to get new 

members, and save the parish from decline. She is subject, 

in a sense, also to her need to function in something of a 

crisis environment in order to stay creative; high tension 

is often creative tension for her. And, too, she may be 

subject, like John, to a certain desire to meet 

expectations in order to receive the high marks from 

outside authorities she enjoys. Tom is subject to the 

expectation that he maintain a wide variety of programs to 

reach out to a very diverse urban constituency. He is 

subject to being pulled in a host of different, and 


sometimes competing, or even contradictory, directions as 

he seeks to meet expectations from the various programmatic 

groups active in his parish. Deeper still, he is subject 

to his desire to subsume all these various programs under 

some general parochial rubric. 

Yet, just as Susan and Tom can be seen as subject to 

these aspects of the hidden curriculum in each of their 

situations, they also can be seen as holding these things 

as object, things of which they are the authors and have 

chosen for themselves. In so doing, they make sense of 

their roles in their respective parishes. Susan is in the 

parish she is in at least partly because she is good at 

functioning in a high-stress environment. Though she often 

feels various levels of frustration there, it also feeds 

her, and she experiences considerable success. Practically 

speaking, she is good at attracting and holding new 

members; she's good at bringing new vision to a declining 

community. She is not merely embedded in her parish's 

curriculum, but has put herself in it. It is a curriculum 

of which she, at least partly, is the author; it is hers. 

Likewise, Tom is in his position because he has the mental 

capacity to hold together many things happening 

simultaneously or contiguously, and to see urban ministry 


being done in a variety of ways and from a variety of 

viewpoints. Practically speaking, he is not simply a 

priest; credentialed or not, he is also a kind of social 

worker, and he is also a grant writer. He too is not just 

embedded as subject in the place where he lives and works. 

It is also his; he too is making it, and as he does, he is 

also making, constructing, himself and his way of making 

sense of the world. In each case, the opportunity before 

these clergy is to move that to which s/he is subject to 

object; that is the path toward larger life for each. If 

they can see it differently, they will learn and grow. 

The first part of a process that might be helpful to 

these clergy might be an opportunity, or series of 

opportunities, for some level of reflection and 

conversation among themselves about their experience of 

ministry in their respective situations. We will later 

explore the deeper potential of critical conversations for 

adult learning. For now we may say that such conversation 

might be aided by a facilitator, but could largely proceed 

from the participants themselves. Either way, it would 

begin to create a new kind of holding environment for John, 

Susan, and Tom, one where they could begin to experience 

transformation. The goal of such conversation would be to 





make objective the worlds of their parishes, particularly 
the parts of it to which they are subject: the 
expectations, the hidden curricula, and the assumptions 
these rectors themselves bring to their work and upon which 
they act, those that maintain and perpetuate things as they 
are in a kind of vicious circle, that keeps these rectors 
subject to the things they are subject to, and their 
parishes from growing and developing as they might if the 
circle were broken. Assumptions uncritically held, in 
these examples, perpetuate ministry systems unchanged. 

Robert Kegan says that one function of our assumptions 
is exactly this, to function as a kind of immune system to 
keep things, and us, as they are, to maintain our known 
worlds unchanged. 2 Again, as adults we have developed 
highly effective mechanisms for protecting ourselves from 
change. The familiar, we tell ourselves, generally serves 
us well, or at least well enough that change is often a 
less attractive alternative than maintenance. Our 
resistance to making the familiar strange is strong. 

If we imagine, then, a conversation among these 
clergy, what the participants would likely soon find is 

2 See Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, How the Way We Talk Can Change 
the Way We Work , San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001, esp. chapter 3. 


that they have a lot in common, both with respect to the 
ways they have been functioning in their situations, and 
the kinds of things to which they have been subject. A 
further kind of conversation they might have, which likely 
would be even more revealing, would be for them to talk in 
groups with other rectors of parishes in situations 
parallel to theirs. For example, John might talk with 
other rectors of suburban churches roughly the same size 
and composition as his; Susan might talk with other part- 
time rectors of parishes in processes of rebuilding after 
periods of decline; Tom might talk with rectors of other 
multi-program urban parishes. The similarities would 
likely be even closer, and the possibilities for learning 
even greater. 

Regardless of how they talk, if they stay with it, a 
process such as Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey set 
forth in How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work 3 
might be very useful to them. Kegan and Lahey offer a 
process in which participants identify successively a 
commitment they hold, those things they can see themselves 
doing that prevent that commitment from being fully 
realized, a competing commitment which is evidenced by 

3 ibid. 


things they are actually doing (by their real behavior) , 

and finally a "big," over-arching assumption that they can 

then recognize as guiding their reflexive responses to many 

situations. The point of the process is to enable 

participants to develop a "muscle" as Kegan and Lahey call 

it for gaining leverage over assumptions to which they are 

subject. The process is liberating because it helps 

participants obtain distance from, and hence some objective 

freedom from and control over, assumptions out of which 

they previously did not realize they operated. The turning 

point of such a process for these rectors would be the 

point at which they are able to identify the "big 

assumptions" that keep things, and them, the way they are, 

those that prevent both the further development of their 

parishes, and their own further professional and even 

personal development. This would be a crucial step in 

their education, their being "led out" (in the literal 

meaning of "education") of the realm of subject into the 

realm of object. 

Suppose they did this exercise. What might some of 

their big assumptions be? John, conceivably, might find 

that one of his big assumptions is that if he rocks the 

boat of his supposedly staid parish too much it will come 


unglued, the changes he has instituted over time and with 
much hard work will not hold, and he will have a mutiny of 
some proportion on his hands. He might say he is committed 
to the noble goal of initiating support groups for children 
of divorced parents. But, his making social calls on long- 
standing parishioners saps his time and energy, preventing 
him from doing the work of starting the new ministry with 
the young people. He might recognize that his competing 
commitment is to keeping his parish stable, and from that 
come to a recognition of his big assumption. Through a 
similar process Susan might come to see that one of her big 
assumptions is that a crisis helps assure a certain level 
of commitment. Something she needs from the people of her 
parish, if they are to continue to grow with less than 
full-time clerical leadership, is vigorous lay involvement. 
Keeping up a sense of urgency, such as about finances or 
other pressing aspects of a fast growing church community, 
keeps the importance of commitment up front and visible on 
a week to week, if not day to day, basis. Tom might become 
aware that one of his big assumptions is that he needs to 
be in the middle of every parish program in order to 
maintain the integrity of its ministry, indeed in order to 

maintain his own integrity, meaning perhaps his own self 


integration, in order for him to thrive professionally. In 

each case, these rectors' big assumptions stem from the way 

they have constructed meaning in their professional 

environments, the way they have put it together and 

understood it, and in each case these assumptions serve 

both to maintain the status quo and to thwart growth - the 

professional and personal growth of the rectors, and the 

growth of their respective church communities. 

To leverage their big assumptions, so that they become 

instruments for growth and development, these clergy need 

to feel themselves anchored, as Kegan often puts it in his 

classroom, on both sides of their assumptions, both before 

their realization and afterward. They need to feel 

themselves supported on both sides of the bridge of meaning 

making from one form of knowing to another. The bridges 

that enable us to move from one place in our growth and 

development to the next need support us on both ends. 

Having been supported in stepping back and getting distance 

from the assumptions to which they were subject, those they 

now hold as object, John, Susan, and Tom also need support 

in the new work of reconstructing their worlds. Just as 

support for identifying big assumptions can come from the 

regular convening of colleagues for conversation and 


reflection, and from supportive relationships with fellow 

clergy, so too can support for moving these assumptions 

from subject to object and remaking worldviews. And, as 

John, Susan, and Tom enter into objective relationships 

with their assumptive worlds, it is important also to 

return in fresh ways to the particularity of the 

environments from which they came, in which they were 

embedded. The particularity of their embeddedness now also 

becomes part of their reconstruction; it becomes, in a way 

of speaking that Kegan again often uses in his classroom, 

the "solution" to their problem, for it enables not only 

fresh approaches to their ministry but also new, more 

useful ways of thinking about the worlds in which they 

live. What John, Susan, and Tom (and maybe all postmodern 

leaders) need to recognize is that the professional demand 

being placed upon them need not be so much that they should 

hold the complexity of the worlds they serve together, but 

that they should come to see their own participation in 

these worlds, and even these worlds' impact on them, as 

part of the complexity, and develop ways to function 

creatively there in collaboration with others. They need 

opportunities to step back from it all a bit, and lead from 

increased awareness of how their own ways of making meaning 


as professionals may themselves be limited and limiting. 
John, Susan, and Tom need, first, the perspective to see 
their own way of holding their parishes together, their own 
way of meaning making, in the context of the complex matrix 
of meaning making which is each of their parishes, and 
then, beyond that, to see that the matrix of meaning making 
which is each of their parishes is, in a sense, also in 
them, the mental product in a sense of their way of 
understanding it, and but one among many possibilities that 
can be marshaled to serve the world. 

Our postmodern world, Kegan says, requires leadership 
that can both step back from the matrix of multiple ways of 
making meaning represented in contemporary American 
society, and function creatively in its midst by 
understanding it as something one at once participates in, 
helps create, and creates with others. 4 Kegan here notes 
the thinking of Ronald Heifetz, whose understanding of 
leadership as the "providing of a context" 5 in which all 
concerned can work together toward direction for an 
organization found expression in Heifetz' s Leadership 

4 See Robert Kegan, In Over Our Heads: the Mental Demands of Modern 
Life , Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994, 307-334. 

5 Ibid ., 322 


Without Easy Answers . 6 In an earlier essay, Kegan, together 
with his colleague Lisa Laskow Lahey, discussed the 
dilemmas, and sometimes conflicts, that this way of being a 
leader can pose when leaders appear not to be meeting the 
expectations of others that a leader should give clear, 
decisive direction in an organization. 7 Kegan, Lahey, and 
Heifetz all imagine postmodern leaders whose leadership is 
participatory in world construction with those they serve, 
and whose principal work is to bring the gifts of all to 
bear on tasks of before them. 

In effect, John, Susan, and Tom are being asked to 
develop new mental capacities as leaders to function in 
this postmodern world. Though the challenges they face in 
their ministries are profound, they also are full of 
possibility for learning and growth; in fact, for this 
reason they may be said to hold a kind of key to growth and 
development for John, Susan, and Tom, and others like them. 
The problem, how to lead and grow these parishes, itself 
actually leads them further into their own growth and 
development; it, in a sense, now becomes their curriculum. 

6 Ronald A. Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers , Cambridge, MA: 
Harvard University Press, 1994. 

7 Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, "Adult Leadership and Adult 
Development," in B. Kellerman, ed., Leadership , Englewood Cliffs, NJ: 
Prentice-Hall, 1984, 199-230. 


John, for example, might come to see that the diversity of 

his parish is a diversity in him, something his way of 

making meaning has constructed, and which he can now see 

both for its possibilities and its limitations, its promise 

and its cost. He can, from this perspective, let go of a 

bit of his construction, and allow for the possibilities 

for growth presented by other constructions. In the same 

way, Susan might see the pressure in her parish as a 

pressure in her, and see it in relation to other possible 

constructions that might, for example, indeed see the 

ordained leader of a parish as the chief evangelist. Tom 

might see that the contradictions in his parish are 

contradictions in him, and he might come to hold them in 

creative paradox with other ways of knowing around him. 

Professional development that would hope to lead to 

growth for the communities John, Susan, and Tom serve would 

do well to encourage and sustain their own development as 

well, perhaps even first. By helping us see people in an 

ever-evolving way, an approach to professional development 

like that suggested by constructive-developmental 

psychology encourages us to see the institutions 

professionals serve as humanly based. Karen Osterman and 

Robert Kottkamp draw a strong connection between the 


development of institutions and the development of the 
people who serve them. "Reflective practice," they say, 
"is based on the assumption that professional growth is as 
important to the individual as it is to the organization." 8 
Such an approach encourages us to see across forms, 
constructions of mind, ways of knowing, by drawing our 
attention to the diversity of knowers who serve our 
institutions. The approach put forth here is pluralistic 
and relativistic in the most positive sense of allowing for 
multiple systems of meaning making, and disclaiming any 
finality to the process of growth and development. Just as 
it would replace the dominance of any one way of putting 
the world together with a pluralistic vision of the 
possibilities represented by alternative ways of putting 
the world together, so it would also hold the beneficial 
possibility of replacing the isolation of parochial 
ministry with the necessity for a collegial model of on- 
going conversation and sharing among clergy colleagues. It 
would be transformational at both the personal and 
institutional level. 

Karen F. Osterman and Robert B. Kottkamp, Reflective Practice for 
Educators , Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1993, 49. 


Chapter Five 
Making Reflection Critical 

To be sure, though, not all conversation, or even 
reflection, is critical; it can as easily be self-serving. 
What makes conversation and reflection critical? 

While critical theory has figured importantly in 
philosophy and theology for more than a generation, its 
relevance to current efforts to provide transformational 
professional development and foster learning communities 1 
among clergy perhaps remains under-appreciated. It may be 
time to revisit critical theory as informative of this 
task, and critically reflective practice as enabling of it 

Liberation theologians of the nineteen seventies and 
eighties, particularly in Central America, found in 
critical theory a philosophic framework with which to 
understand and articulate the Christian struggle for 
liberation and justice in that part of the world. 
Theologians such as Jose Miguez Bonino, Gustavo Gutierrez, 
and others saw political, economic, and social life as 
determining the religious life of a society, particularly 
the ethical values it embraces and the structures it 

1 "Learning communities" is used in Peter Senge's ( The Fifth Discipline , 
1990) sense of an organization committed to learning as an on-going way 
of being for groups within the organization. 


creates to maintain those values. 2 In their view, religion 
could be understood in terms of the social structures which 
produced it and in which it exists. They saw hope for the 
liberation of those oppressed by such values and structures 
as inextricably connected to the raising of consciousness 
about them. In the language of critical theory, power and 
hegemony 3 had to be exposed. As a social construction, 
theology itself also had to be liberated through critical 
examination of its relationship to its social context. 
Only a liberated church, informed by a liberated theology, 
could help bring about the liberation of oppressed people. 
Since the institutional church was imbedded in social power 
and hegemonic structures, base communities, small grass- 
roots groups of Christians willing to step outside the 
established order and encounter Christianity afresh through 

2 Jose Miquez Bonino, doing theology in a revolutionary situation , 
Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975; Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of 
Liberation , Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis, 1973, and We drink from our own 
wells , Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1984. 

I find Stephen Brookf ield' s explication of power and hegemony helpful, 
in Stephen Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher , San 
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995, 7-10, 14-20. To Professor Brookf ield' s 
description of hegemony, though, I would add, as I had the privilege of 
discussing personally with Professor Brookfield, that I find the 
etymological root of the word "hegemony" instructive. "Hegemon, " in 
ancient Greek, means ruler, leader, or a guide. A hegemonic 
assumption, thus, is a ruling or leading assumption, one that guides 
us, however unaware, in our everyday thought, speech, and action. It 
is an assumption that leads us in our construction of the normal, and 
in such ways that we not only don't ordinarily question it, but even 
naturally regard it as good and the way things are supposed to be. 


critically reflective processes, might be places where 

consciousness could be raised, and from which the struggle 

for justice and liberation could proceed. Indeed, the 

raising of consciousness would bring about a kind of 

imperative for change, for only by changing rudimentary 

political, social, and economic structures could true 

justice and lasting liberation be achieved. 

Though removed from Central America a generation ago, 

critical theory' s concern to uncover power and hegemony in 

the social context can nonetheless helpfully inform our 

efforts to facilitate professional development among 

Episcopal clergy. Stephen Brookfield identifies the 

uncovering of power and hegemony as two essential elements 

of critical reflection in the context of teaching. 

Brookfield writes, 

"Reflection becomes critical when it has two distinct 
purposes. The first is to understand how 
considerations of power undergird, frame, and distort 
educational processes and interactions. The second is 
to question assumptions and practices that seem to 
make our teaching lives easier but actually work 
against our own best interests." 4 

Both our practice as ordained leaders and our attempts at 

professional development are freighted with power. 

4 Stephen Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher , San 
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995, 8. 


Ordained leaders hold enormous positional power, power they 
have by virtue of either their official position ( e.g . , as 
priests or rectors) or of their function in a social 
situation ( e.g . , as persons often accorded respect and 
deference in their communities). Like in the classroom, 
where Brookfield recognizes the presence of forces from the 
wider society, so too in the church, "values, norms, and 
practices" we have unconsciously or uncritically adopted 
from the social context, things "defined for us by others," 
may serve both to oppress those with whom we seek to 
minister and to undo our own best intentions. 5 To turn an 
example cited earlier in a different direction, we are fond 
in the church of speaking of the "ministry of all the 
baptized," asserting that we are one church, membership in 
which is fundamentally defined by one's baptism. Everyone, 
therefore, is a "minister," and is called to offer his or 
her gift and do ministry. This is a powerful, appealing 
idea, and reflects a dominant theme in Christian theology. 
Taken uncritically, though, it may lead to various 
distortions, and serve to hide other realities. It may, 
for example, unhelpfully diminish important distinctions 
between the respective roles of clergy and laity in the 

5 Ibid., 9. 


church. It may also have the effect of making those who 
simply don't see themselves as "ministers," or who perhaps 
want only to be ministered to by someone they recognize in 
the traditional ministerial role of an ordained person, 
feel that they have no place in a church where they have to 
be "ministers" if they are to be members. Although to my 
mind, at least, the primacy of the ministry of all the 
baptized is a foundational tenet of contemporary theology, 
unmasking issues of power implicit in it is crucial if it 
is to be embraced critically, and ultimately 
appreciatively. So, too, do issues of power pervade our 
work on professional development, and require critical 
reflection. We heartily affirm and embrace the importance 
of professional development. Yet, realistically, all 
professional development aims toward some end, an end that 
is seen as valuable for the professional in the relation to 
the institution in which s/he practices. Provided and 
pursued uncritically, professional development easily 
reinforces institutional values, norms, and practices, and 
may actually diminish opportunities for the genuine 
development of professionals, both with respect to their 
professional practice and their personal growth. 


Likewise, both our practice and our efforts at 

professional development are rife with hegemonic 

assumptions. Brookfield describes hegemonic assumptions as 

"those that we think are in our own best interests but that 

have actually been designed by more powerful others to work 

against us in the long term." 6 Brookfield cites Antonio 

Gramsci : 

"As proposed by Antonio Gramsci (1978), the term 
hegemony describes the process whereby ideas, 
structure, and actions come to be seen by the majority 
of the people as wholly natural, preordained, and 
working for their own good, when, in fact they are 
constructed and transmitted by powerful minority 
interests to protect the status quo that serves those 
interests . " 7 

Brookfield goes on to describe how hegemony affects us: 

"The subtle tenacity of hegemony lies in the fact 
that, over time, it becomes deeply embedded, part of 
the cultural air we breathe. We cannot peel back the 
layers of oppression and identify any particular group 
our groups of people actively conspiring to keep 
others silent and disenfranchised. Instead, the ideas 
and practices of hegemony are part and parcel of 
everyday life - the stock opinions, conventional 
wisdom, and commonsense ways of seeing and ordering 
the world that many of us take for granted. If there 
is a conspiracy here, it is the conspiracy of the 
normal. " 8 

Hegemony, as Brookfield says, is the taken-for-grantedness 

of everyday life, the common assumptions we hold about the 

6 Ibid., 14-15. 

7 Ibid., 15. 

8 Ibid. 


way things are and the way we expect them to be. These are 
the large, over-arching assumptions out of which we operate 
day-to-day, things we generally accept as "truth" and 
normally find little reason to question. Hegemony leads us 
to be satisfied with, even to love and call good, the way 
things are. As noted above, the etymological root of the 
word is instructive. Hegemon , in classical Greek, was a 
leader; hegemonia meant authority or rule. Hegemonic 
assumptions are those authoritative, ruling, guiding 
assumptions we hold, usually without thinking about them 
(uncritically) , that govern our thinking, and lead us to be 
satisfied with, even love and work at perpetuating, things 
as they are. They are our "leading" assumptions. The 
problem with hegemonic assumptions is that, over time, they 
become more and more entrenched in our lives. Their 
control over our ways of knowing prevent us from seeing 
things differently. They prevent us from seeing the other 
side(s) of issues and ideas; they make it difficult for us 
to see the same thing from a different perspective, and 
they thereby have tremendous potential to make us, however 
unwittingly, party to oppression, to the exercise of power 
to the detriment not only of others but ultimately 


ourselves as well. They can do us in as easily as do us 


The example of the ministry of all the baptized used 

in the discussion of power above also illustrates the 

operation of hegemony, as we have already seen in the 

discussion of consequences of some of our assumptions about 

the ministry of the baptized in Chapter Two. As another 

example, we might consider the hegemony of the parochial 

model of ministry. So normative is the parochial model as 

the locus of ministry that we reckon it good, usually 

without question. It serves us well in many ways. We like 

our parishes. We like having parish priests. And when we 

think about deploying ordained ministry it is almost always 

in terms of deploying them in and through the parochial 

model. But what might be some consequences of deploying 

ordained people differently? Suppose the hegemony of the 

parochial model were exposed and reconsidered. Instead of 

parish based clergy suppose clergy were based in regions as 

teams. Clergy bring many different gifts to the ministry, 

many that are highly specialized. Suppose one or two 

didn't have to do it all in a parish, but could offer their 

best gifts across a wider structure, with several clergy 

ministering in the areas for which they were best 


qualified. Might that be a better, more effective 
deployment of the skills present in the ordained ministry? 
Might it afford more effective focus for evangelism? Might 
the hegemony of the parochial model, which we like so much, 
even love, actually be seen to be working against us? 
Again, a critically reflective church comes to see the 
self-limiting nature of every vision of ministry, holds 
each up to question, searches out the assumptions upon 
which each rests, and looks at alternative models. Making 
our reflection and conversation critical is vital for the 
sake of the vibrancy of both the church' s ministry as a 
whole, and the professional development of those who are 
called to serve it in the ordained ministry. 


Chapter Six 

Making Critical Reflection Transformational 

By unmasking power and hegemony, and becoming aware of 

the assumptions that make up our worlds, we can act in more 

informed and hopefully effective ways. In fact, we may 

also be transformed, as we find freedom from our 

assumptions through gaining perspective on them. 

Transformational learning happens as we make sense of the 

world in new, fundamentally different, often more complex, 

and increasingly inclusive ways, as the form of our knowing 

changes. Especially relevant to the work of professional 

development is the potential of critical reflection to 

bring about such substantive change in the ways leaders of 

organizations think and act, for that can lead to 

substantive change in the organizations as well. Jack 

Mezirow speaks of "transformative' 7 learning and defines it 

this way: 

"Transformative learning refers to the process by 
which we transform our taken-for-granted frames of 
reference (meaning perspectives, habits of mind, mind- 
sets) to make them more inclusive, discriminating, 
open, emotionally capable of change, and reflective so 
that they may generate beliefs and opinions that will 
prove more true or justified to guide action." 1 

1 Jack Mezirow, "Learning to Think Like an Adult - Core Concepts of 
Transformation Theory," in Jack Mezirow and Associates, Learning as 
Transformation , San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000, 7-8. 


Critically reflective processes can trigger transformative 
learning. In analyzing this process, Mezirow discusses how 
adults make meaning of the world, and distinguishes between 
"meaning schemes" and "meaning perspectives." By "meaning 
schemes" he refers to ordinary expectations and the rules 
that govern them, our habits of interpretation for 
understanding ordinary relationships, the usual meanings we 
attach to things. By "meaning perspectives" he refers to 
our much larger, "higher order" systems of mental 
organization - "theories, propositions, beliefs, 
prototypes,...." 2 We operate day to day based on established 
meaning schemes and perspectives. Mezirow suggests that a 
large part of adult learning involves "reflecting back on 
prior learning to determine whether what we have learned is 
justified under present circumstances," 3 and "validating" 
the ways we have constructed meaning. 4 Critical reflection 
then, in Mezirow' s view, involves "challenging the validity 
of presuppositions in prior learning." 5 The opportunity for 
reassessment of assumptions and orientations afforded by 

1 Jack Mezirow, "How Critical Reflection Triggers Transformative 
Learning," in Jack Mezirow and Associates, Fostering Critical 
Reflection in Adulthood , San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990, 2-4. 
3 Ibid., 5. 

Ibid., 9-11. 


5 Ibid., 12 

critical reflection, Mezirow says, presents adults with 
their greatest experiences of learning. These experiences 
become transformative of our perspectives, our frames of 
reference, our ways of knowing, organizing, even feeling, 
either through a progression of reflections on "anomalies" 
to our meaning schemes - exceptions to them, or, Mezirow 
says, "in response to an externally imposed disorienting 
dilemma" 6 - a crisis of one sort or another that "triggers" 
and, in a sense, makes necessary, a major change in our 
way(s), our form(s), of making meaning of the world. We 
have then to re-form our minds. "Anomalies and dilemmas," 
Mezirow says, "of which old ways of knowing cannot make 
sense, become catalysts or 'triggers events' that 
precipitate critical reflection and transformations." 7 In 
such transformative learning, according to Mezirow, 
learners can find a kind of emancipation from assumptions 
and the shortcomings of prior ways of knowing. While prior 
interpretations may serve in part to guide new ones, the 
learner finds freedom from the constraints of uncritically 
held assumptions. "Emancipatory education," Mezirow says, 
"is an organized effort to help the learner challenge 

6 ibid., 13. 

7 Ibid., 14. 


presuppositions, explore alternative perspectives, 
transform old ways of understanding, and act on new 
perspectives . " 8 

Robert Kegan' s use of the language of subject-object 
theory in constructive-developmental psychology describes 
something similar to that to which Mezirow is pointing. 
Transformational learning, as Kegan uses the term, is a 
change not only or necessarily in what we know 
(information), but in how we know (formation). Kegan 
outlines five orders of consciousness, representing five 
ways of knowing, by which he means five kinds of 
relationship between those things to which we are subject 
and those we hold objectively. 9 As we outlined earlier, 
things to which we are subject are those, in Kegan' s 
language, that "have us," - our assumptive worlds, premises 
in which our lives are embedded and out of which we operate 
unconsciously, reflexively, uncritically, but not 
reflectively. For these things, Kegan says, we cannot 
fairly be held responsible, for they are not truly ours. 
Things we hold objectively, as object, on the other hand, 

8 ibid., 18. 

3 See Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human 
Development , Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982, especially 
chapter 3. 


are those that "we have," of which, in a sense, we are 
master, of which we are conscious and in some way 
critically aware, upon which we can reflect. Because we 
hold them objectively, we can fairly be held responsible 
for them. Transformational learning happens when we become 
aware of - able to objectify - those things to which we 
previously were subject. There we transform our way of 
knowing to a new way. The point at which transformation 
happens usually involves a crisis of some sort. The prior 
way of making sense of the world ceases to work as well as 
it used to. Through an accumulation of epistemological 
failures, failures in our ability to make sense of the 
world's reality as we used to, the durability of the prior 
way of making sense of it, the prior form, becomes strained 
and begins to break. The learning that can take place at 
this point is transformational because we can change from 
one form (way) of knowing the world to another, to one that 
is better able to account for and manage the increasing 
complexity of life we experience. The embeddedness of our 
life in a prior form has been exposed, and our work now is 
to make sense of the world in a different way; we engage in 
what Kegan calls, "reforming our meaning form." 10 

10 Robert Kegan, "What Form Transforms? - A Constructive-Developmental 


The insights of Kegan, Brookfield, Mezirow, and others 
into the nature of transformational/transformative 
learning, and the core concerns of critical reflection, can 
be put in the service of designing and facilitating 
professional development for clergy in powerful ways. The 
potential of critical reflection to lead to 
transformational learning seems to me especially important 
to the work of professional development. It seems to me 
that the roles of the planner (s), facilitator (s) , and/or 
presenter (s) of professional development events, are 
particularly crucial in this process. Two functions of 
these people seem especially relevant, two that may on the 
surface seem contradictory. One is that they serve as 
catalysts for critical reflection; the other is that they 
help provide a supportive holding environment in which 
reflection can take place. 

Taking the second first, Brookfield discusses the 
importance of seeing critical reflection as a "social 
process;" he speaks of creating critical conversations that 
are "respectful, inclusive, and democratic," and notes that 

Approach to Transformative Learning," in Mezirow et al., Learning as 
Transformation , 52-53, 62-63. See also Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self: 
Problem and Process in Human Development , 1982, and In Over Our Heads: 
The Mental Demands of Modern Life, 1994 




"good conversation takes time." 11 Critical reflection, I 
too think, requires attention to the context in which it 
takes place. The context needs to be experienced by the 
participants as safe, and supportive of open inquiry. It 
needs to be clear that it is okay, indeed encouraged, in 
this environment to ask questions and pose ideas or 
possibilities, even dissenting ones, and to do so 
regardless of their ultimate viability, even regardless of 
whether or not one is fully committed oneself to the 
specific positions one may offer in the course of 
reflection. Participants need to feel supported, 
primarily, in their thinking and in their contributing to 
the whole learning process, regardless of support that may 
or may not come secondarily for specific ideas. 
Participants also need to feel that their own experience, 
what they themselves bring to the learning environment, is 
held in high regard. Various participants, depending on 
how they are making meaning, may have greater or lesser 
need for each of these kinds of support. Either way, to 
echo Kegan's use of the image of a bridge, when we are 
trying to encourage people' s movement from one 

11 Stephen D. Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher , San 
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995, 140-141. 


understanding to another, it is essential that they feel 
firmly anchored on both sides of the bridge of meaning 
making. Donna Amstutz's outline of inclusive practices is 
helpful here too, especially her attention to "situated 
cognition" (recognizing the centrality of the context of 
learning for meaning making) , "nondichotomous ways of 
knowing" (avoidance of messages of exclusivity of either 
persons or ideas, and solidarity between learners and 
teachers), and the construction and maintenance of 
supportive learning environments. 12 One role of the 
facilitator is to help provide a supportive environment, 
and be a supportive companion in critical reflection, by 
modeling commitment to it in his/her own actions during a 
professional development event (nondichotomous ways of 
knowing) , and by providing such variety of supports as may 
be appropriate for the variety of kinds of learners who are 
present. Such behavior by the facilitator thereby 
encourages others to risk engaging with the event's 
learning process themselves. Frequent verbal expressions 
of support, and even attention to body language and other 

12 Donna Amstutz, "Adult Learning: Moving Toward More Inclusive 
Theories and Practices," in Talmadge C. Guy ed., Providing Culturally 
Relevant Adult Education: A Challenge for the Twenty-First Century , San 
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999, 25-29. 


cues, leaving none unacknowledged or responded to, are 

integral to the facilitator's task. 

Although Brookfield holds that the "disorienting 

dilemma" Mezirow describes, while necessary to 

transformative learning, is not to critical reflection, it 

seems to me generally acknowledged that some sort of 

problematization of life is necessary to the learning 

process. Another function, perhaps, of facilitators, 

and/or at an earlier stage the designers of professional 

development events, is to create some kind of epistemic 

crisis (crisis regarding the accepted way of knowing) that, 

at some level, problematizes (makes problematic) the 

subject at hand. It is, of course, crucial for planners, 

facilitators, and presenters of adult development events to 

strike a careful balance between this problematizing 

function and the function of assuring a supportive 

environment for learning. These two functions could easily 

come into conflict. Problematization, too, could be easily 

misinterpreted as manipulation. Nonetheless, it seems to 

me that there needs to be some degree of disequilibria 

present or introduced between, to use Kegan's terminology, 

what is subject and what is object, in order for the 

environment to be rich and the learning to be meaningful 


and lasting. Part of the planners' and facilitators' roles 

in critical reflection leading to transformational learning 

is that of a catalyst to help participants, again using 

Kegan' s terms, move what is subject in their experience to 

the position of object, where it can be looked at 

critically, even transformationally. To do this, a 

facilitator may need, in some sense, to provoke a crisis. 

A frame of reference, it seems to me, needs to be 

problematized in order to be transformed. Power and 

hegemony somehow have not only to be exposed, but also to 

be made problematic, in order for some level of urgency, at 

either a personal or group level, to emerge. This kind of 

urgency can prompt learners to want to subject their 

assumptions to question and challenge, to reassess them; it 

can encourage them to take risks and stay with the process, 

and it can lead them to search for other possibilities. To 

this end, it seems to me, again, that those responsible for 

providing and producing professional development 

opportunities have the dual responsibility of facilitating, 

on the one hand, the deconstruction of assumptions, and, on 

the other hand, the reconstruction of new ways of 

understanding the topic at hand in a supportive learning 

environment . 


Kasl and Elias identify critical reflection (which 
they define as enabling assessment of current reality) , and 
discernment (generating insights about current reality and 
imagining new possibilities) as two important processes in 
the work toward transforming frames of reference with small 
groups. Noting that "'consciousness develops in response to 
demands from the environment," they say that "short of 
intentionally precipitating institutional crisis, adult 
educators can help groups develop capacity for learning by 
helping them pay ongoing attention to their identity and to 
their environment." 13 This seems to me to be a goal widely 
applicable to professional development, and that 
facilitating its achievement involves, again, either 
working with, or introducing for the sake of problematizing 
the subject, something that makes it urgent. That 
something might be a presenter, a group exercise, a 
structured dialogue among several groups representing 
different sides of an issue, an institutional crisis with 
which the facilitator helps the group wrestle, or even a 
world issue, external to the institution, about which group 
members feel urgency. The point is, some catalyst for 

13 Elizabeth Kasl and Dean Elias, "Creating New Habits of Mind in Small 
Groups," in Mezirow et al. ; Learning as Transformation , 249-250. 


reflection and learning seems necessary, and part of the 

facilitator' s role would be to introduce it or work with it 

for the sake of helping make the reflection and learning 

make a difference. This role, though, carries with it a 

weighty responsibility. As several authors have observed, 

there are ethical dimensions of critical reflection and 

transformative learning of which educators must not lose 

sight. Kitchener and King, for example, put it this way: 

"Transformative learning that leads to developmental 
change does not occur without disequilibrium. 
Disequilibrium is frequently uncomfortable and, in 
some cases, can even be frightening.... As educators, 
when we accept the task of deliberately educating to 
promote development, we must also accept the 
responsibility of providing students with both an 
emotionally and intellectually supportive environment. 
In other words, we must not only challenge old 
perspectives but must support people in their search 
for new ones. Thus, we must create an educational 
milieu that is developmentally appropriate . " 14 

Another dimension of critical reflection' s 

contribution to the professional development concerns the 

relationship of the transformational learning of the 

individual to the purpose, style, and goals of the 

organization as a whole in which the individual works. 

Lyle Yorks and Victoria Marsick' s work comparing and 

14 Karen S. Kitchener and Patricia M. King, "The Reflective Judgment 
Model: Transforming Assumptions About Knowing," in Mezirow et al., 
Fostering Critical Reflection , 168. 


contrasting organizational learning and transformative 

learning is particularly intriguing here with respect to 

the interest of many organizations in promoting the idea of 

becoming a learning community, or a "learning organization" 

along the lines of Peter Senge' s vision. This vision has 

been articulated among dioceses and parishes in the 

Episcopal Church, that they become learning communities. 

Yorks and Marsick understand transformative learning as 

focused on the individual (Mezirow' s idea of transformation 

of a knower' s frames of reference, leading to emancipation 

from limiting or distorting forms of meaning making for the 

individual). "In contrast," Yorks and Marsick write, "the 

goal of organizational transformation is allowing the 

organization to more effectively realize its performance 

objectives." 15 They continue, 

"This goal may or may not be in conflict with 
transformative learning in terms of the impact on 
individual lives and choices. It does, however, 
involve substantial and fundamental change in how the 
organization functions, breaking with past patterns of 
organizational action and requiring entirely new 
behaviors on the part of organizational members.... In 
learning organizations, transformative learning on the 
part of individuals is desired for purposes of meeting 
organizational goals." 16 

15 Lyle Yorks and Victoria J. Marsick, "Organizational Learning and 
Transformation," in Meziow et al., Learning as Transformation , 254. 

16 Ibid., 254-255. 


Yorks and Marsick identify two strategies for 
transformative learning with individuals, groups, and/or 
organizations: "action learning" and "collaborative 
inquiry," and they point to "contradictions" each reveals 
between individual and organizational transformation. 
Nonetheless, though the goals of organizational and 
transformative learning may be distinct or even 
contradictory, they may still be importantly related. 
Indeed, the two may ultimately be seen to be inextricable. 
It seems to me, that critical reflection and openness to 
transformative learning on the part of members of an 
organization (a conceivable result of critical reflection) 
are crucial to an organization becoming a learning 
community. As Osterman and Kottcamp have observed, there 
is a clear and positive relationship between encouragement 
for individual growth and organizational growth. 
"Reflective practice," as they note, "is based on an 
assumption that professional growth is as important to the 
individual as it is to the organization." 17 A learning 
community encourages critical reflection, and is open to 
the institutional change that may come as a consequence of 

17 Karen F. Osterman and Robert B. Kottkamp, Reflective Practice for 
Educators , Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1993, 49. 



the transformative learning of its members. Applied to 

professional development, facilitating transformative 

learning through critical reflection is, it seems to me, in 

the best interest of both the professional and the 

organization in which the professional practices. In their 

conclusion, Yorks and Marsick cast the relevance of 

transformative learning theory for organizations in the 

broad social perspective of the importance of learning 

organizations for society: 

"Just as teams are a basic integrative building block 
of learning organizations, learning organizations are 
critical for the broader issue of learning societies. 
Representing the fundamental components of modern 
societies, organizational units in business, 
government, nonprofits, and schools are significant 
avenues for the transfer of learning from individuals 
and groups to the societal level of action and for the 
potential production of generative social learning." 18 

Given this level of influence widely ascribed to the idea 

of learning organizations today, it seems to me difficult 

to separate organizational learning and personal 

transformation very far. 

18 Yorks and Marsick, "Organizational Learning and Transformation," 276- 


Chapter Seven 

Design and Process for Professional Development: 

a case study of power and hegemony 

As important as discussions of power and hegemony are 

around the content (subject matter) of professional 

development events, they are equally important to their 

design and process. What issues of power are implicit in 

our planning for such events, and in their implementation? 

What hegemonic assumptions are implicit in our approach to 

these days and our method as we facilitate them? How might 

our best intentions for development, pursued through 

dialogue, conversation, and our visions for becoming a 

learning community, actually limit or work against 

critically reflective processes and possibilities for 

transformational learning? Might small group discussions, 

for example, not foster an atmosphere of "group think," 

with the result of inhibiting rather than encouraging 

creative and open inquiry? What power issues and hegemonic 

assumptions underlie our choice of a presenter, or even our 

choice to have or not to have one, and the way we frame 

questions around which we structure an event? Do these 

choices, and our process and practice as designers as a 

whole, come out of a critically reflective process? 


Power and hegemony are issues in both the content of a 
professional development event, and its process, the way we 
shape the learning. As open as those responsible for 
planning professional development events may try to leave 
them, it nonetheless takes an extraordinarily courageous 
learner to break through the power and hegemony of any 
process, and achieve the level of professional development 
we claim to desire. A challenge of professional 
development design processes is to incorporate and 
encourage the potential of participants for 
transformational learning, and for their transforming of 
the institution, into the process of advancing the 
institution's articulated goals (the ways it says it 
wants/needs its professionals to develop) . Brookfield 
repeatedly emphasizes the importance of keeping attention 
on the learners' own experiences as authoritative, and to 
make continual use of evaluative 

instruments/questionnaires, even in the course of a 
learning event, to keep the learning and teaching active, 
engaged, relevant, and open to new possibilities. 1 While 
power and hegemony pervade every process, professional 

1 Stephen D. Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher , San 
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995, 18-20, 66-69, chapters 6 & 8. 


development design rooted in critically reflective 
practices like these stands a better chance both of 
encouraging the development of individuals, and nurturing 
the growth of institutions and organizations. 

On April 25, 2002 the Episcopal Diocese of 
Massachusetts held its Spring Clergy Day, a semiannual 
professional development event for ordained leaders of the 
Diocese. 2 We will look at the design and process for this 
clergy day, not as a prescriptive model for doing such an 
event, but as a case in point to illustrate some of the 
issues at stake in them. We will attempt to bring the 
insights and concerns of critical reflection to bear on an 
analysis of this clergy day as an opportunity for 
professional development within the broader rubric of adult 
learning. The focus here is on issues implicit in our 
approach to teaching and learning, as critical reflection 
may inform our understanding of them, on ways critical 
reflection may enhance our understanding of what happened 
during this day, and how it may inform the planning of 
other such events. The point here is not to reflect on 

■ Though usually a day for the development of ordained people, 
exclusively, on this particular occasion lay members of the Diocesan 
staff were also asked to participate, because discussion of the day's 
topic was seen to have potential ramifications for their work in 
support of the Diocese. 


issues presented or raised by the subject matter of this 

clergy day, the specific topic or programmatic content of 

the day, except to the extent that such issues may be 

related to issues of process. The point also is not 

attempt to evaluate what specific learning participants may 

or may not have taken from the day, except again as such 

evaluation may be related to critical reflection on the 

learning process. The case is presented, rather, for the 

sake of showing how the insights and concerns of critical 

reflection might be brought to bear on issues of design and 

process for adult learning and professional development. 

As Stephen Brookfield repeatedly emphasizes, critical 

reflection's core concerns lie with power and hegemony. 

Unmasking the dynamics of power in situations of learning 

and teaching, and the dominance of hegemonic or governing 

assumptions, is the work of critical reflection. Through 

critically reflective processes we can see the 

pervasiveness of power in all human interactions, 

particularly the dynamics of teaching and learning, and we 

can begin "hunting," as Brookfield often says in his 

classroom, for the assumptions from which we otherwise 

unknowingly operate day to day, even minute to minute, in 

the learning/teaching environment. The great hope critical 


reflection holds is that, through increasing our awareness 
of power, and exposing our hegemonic assumptions, we might 
become free of the epistemic bonds, so to speak, to which 
we are otherwise subject. We might have them, rather than 
their having us, in Robert Kegan' s language. Through 
learning informed by criticality, the hope is that we might 
be emancipated, as Mezirow says, perhaps even transformed, 
that we might come to see things differently, maybe even to 
see things we didn't see before, and thereby both grow 
personally and develop into more effective leaders. 

In examining the design and process of our clergy day 
questions such as the following are at stake: 

• What issues of power were implicit in our 
planning process for the day, and in its 

• What hegemonic assumptions implicitly guided our 
method and approach for the day? 

• How might our best intentions for development, 
pursued through dialogue, lectures, and our 
promotion of discussion groups as learning 
communities, actually have limited and worked 
against critically reflective processes and 
possibilities for transformational learning? 

• Did the discussion groups, for example, foster a 
free and expansive flow of fresh ideas, or did 
they really serve to reinforce existing 
structures of thought and discourse, substitute 
"group think' 7 for authentic learning and 
teaching, and inhibit rather than encourage 


creative, open inquiry? If the later was the 
case, and we truly want the former, what might we 
do differently next time? 

• What issues of power, and what hegemonic 
assumptions, were behind our choice of the 

• What issues of power, and what hegemonic 
assumptions, led us to frame the discussion 
questions, and otherwise structure the day, as we 


How, in hindsight, might a critically reflective 
process have better informed and enabled our 
process and practice as a whole in the planning 
and implementation of this event? 

• From what position of centrality does a 

critically reflective process such as was part of 
the planning and implementation of this event 
come, and what critique of that process itself 
might be offered in the interest of deepening 
understanding, liberating knowledge, and 
expanding the possibilities for growth and 

Our Spring Clergy Day of April 25 was offered as a 

"Gathering" for "Conversations about Mission," with The 

Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas, Associate Professor of World Mission, 

Global Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School as the 

presenter. Clearly, planners, presenters, and facilitators 

all hold enormous positional power in such 

learning/teaching situations. Likewise, the way a program 

is presented and the authority lent to it by its sponsor, 

in this case the diocesan bishop's office, and the choice 


of a presenter, communicate power and begin already to 
create knowledge; they set a stage from the outset, for the 
kind of conversations, indeed the kind of learning, that 
may follow. Foucault speaks succinctly of the subtle but 
powerful relationship between power and knowledge. "The 
exercise of power," Foucault says, "itself creates and 
causes to emerge new objects of knowledge and accumulates 
new bodies of information. .. It is not possible for power to 
be exercised without knowledge, it is not possible for 
knowledge not to engender power." 3 We exert power and 
initiate a powerful process when we convene a gathering, 
especially one on a timely topic and lent special credence 
by its sponsorship and the choice of a recognized authority 
in the field as the speaker. This particular speaker 
happened to be a white male, an ordained person, one who is 
well known and highly regarded in the Diocese and beyond, 
and who himself holds a position of authority at a 
respected educational institution of the Episcopal Church. 
Be it this speaker or any other, factors of race, gender, 
and class are inescapable parts of the equation of power. 
It may be impossible to know precisely in what way these 
factors affect the learning environment, or how they may 

3 Michael Foucault, Power /Knowledge , New York: Pantheon, 1980, 51-52 


impact individual participants. That they are factors, 
though, and important ones to be mindful of, is undeniable. 
They all contribute to the positionality, not only of the 
speaker, but also of the program as it is being presented, 
and ultimately of learners who respond one way or another 
to the speaker and the program out of their own identities. 
"It is the unpacking of the story around issues of 
positionality," Elizabeth Tisdell says, "and the critical 
reflection both on the story and on the story' s unpacking 
that helps us understand our constantly shifting identities 
around systems of power, privilege, and oppression that 
inform our lives." 4 

We all have positionality; we may or may not all have 
equal power, or at least know that we do. Planners of 
professional development events exercise enormous power by 
the way they set up and structure the learning situation. 
The announcement of this Clergy Day stated, "The Rev. Dr. 
Ian Douglas will help us understand.. .We want to hear from 
everyone. ..Your prayers, ideas, experience, and support are 

4 Elizabeth Tisdell, "Feminist Perspectives on Adult Education: 
Constantly Shifting Identities in Constantly Changing Times," in 
Vanessa Sheared and Peggy A. Sissel, Making Space: Merging Theory and 
Practice in Adult Education , Westport, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey, 
2001, 283. 


critical... . " 5 While intended in one sense to be inviting, 
the language here is also the language of power ("will," 
"want," "support," "critical"). These words convey 
expectation, promise, urgency, authority, and even command. 
While expressing the earnest desire for broad 
participation, they also set limits, and serve to establish 
a certain positional power for the limit setters ( i.e., the 
planners) . While on the one hand they set a helpful 
framework for the event, on the other hand they have the 
effect of predetermining to a certain extent the parameters 
of learning. Again, as open as those responsible for 
planning professional development events may try to leave 
them, it takes an extraordinarily courageous learner to 
break through the power (and hegemony) of any process, and 
achieve the level of professional development we purport to 
desire. To be sure, the words announcing this event could 
easily have been read and understood in a variety of 
senses, leaving it at that point to prospective 
participants to break through the norms of thought already 
set up, and enter an arena where questioning and truly 
reflective thought might begin. To what extent they would 

5 See Appendix A. 


do this remains an unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, 


Participants, though, also have considerable power, 

though they may or may not know it or feel free to exercise 

it. A role the facilitator may be able to play is to help 

participants recognize the power of their own position, and 

validate their exercising of it. Particularly, 

facilitators and presenters can helpfully validate 

participants' own experience as authoritative for learning 

by modeling it. Even prior to the event, planners can 

structure the day so as to affirm implicitly the preeminent 

authority of participants' experience. At this Clergy Day 

the first hour of the event, after the opening worship, was 

devoted to participants using their own experience and 

knowledge as the text for learning. Participants were 

asked first to write responses to a two-part question, then 

to spend fifty minutes in discussion of their responses 

with small groups of colleagues, before offering succinct 

reports of each group's discussion to the whole. 

Significantly for the learning process of this day, these 

small group discussions took place prior to hearing from 

the speaker, rather than in response to a presentation. 

Likewise, in the afternoon session, the group discussion 




also took place before , rather than after the lecture. 
However tacitly communicated, the structure of a 
professional development event can reflect various 
understandings of the power dynamics within a learning 
situation. Again, in Foucault's idiom, power and knowledge 
become inextricably linked. In this situation, placing the 
discussions before the presentations was meant to 
underscore the validity of what participants bring to the 
event out of their own experience. 6 The content of the 
questions might also communicate this, hence the questions 
offered at April 25, 2002 Clergy Day encouraged 
participants to draw on their own experience and 
understanding: "What is Christian Mission?" and "What 
biblical passages inform your understanding of mission?" 7 
It should be noted again, however, that any question, and 
any order of presentation of questions, convey implicit 
assumptions about what is valued in a given situation, and 
exert a kind of power upon knowers. So too does the use of 
groups, particularly as a first activity in an event like 
this, since some people find small groups intimidating; for 
them the simple context of a paired conversation with only 

6 See Appendix B for the schedule from the April 25, 2002 Clergy Day. 

7 See Appendix C for the questions from the April 25, 2002 Clergy Day. 



one other person is more helpful as their initial 

experience of conversation at these events. 

What assumptions, then, guided the process for this 

clergy day? How does hegemony drive the possibilities and 

limitations for learning in a professional development day 

like this one? The choice of a speaker, again, serves as 

one example; so too does the mere choice to have a speaker. 

We assume that we need to hear from an outside authority; 

that a featured speaker adds weight and substance, and 

helps focus learning. This may or may not be true, and we 

might also question how outside the chosen authority should 

be. In this case the outside authority was also an 

insider, in that this speaker was also a colleague in the 

Diocese, a fellow clergyperson, whose expertise was in the 

subject area on which the event was intended to focus. 

Just as political and programmatic considerations drive the 

choice of a particular speaker, so too, in part, may 

educational considerations. Our assumptions about learning 

and teaching may weigh heavily in this aspect of planning. 

We assume that a speaker should be somewhat provocative, at 

least enough so to be a catalyst for reflection, but not so 

controversial as to be polarizing or alienating. The 

cumulative effect of our hegemonic assumptions, world- 


views, perspectives, and orientations contributes to our 

decisions as to where to draw this line. For the sake of 

prompting critical reflection and seeing things in new 

ways, though, it is conceivable that a more controversial, 

provocative, disorienting speaker might be the better 

catalyst to that end. Provocation, something akin to 

Mezirow' s disorienting dilemma, may be just what we need. 

The speaker chosen for this occasion was seen to provide a 

balance among all these factors. The hegemony of our 

assumptions, however, prevents us from seeing every 


As was noted before, the choice to have the group 

discussions precede, rather than follow, the speaker, was 

meant, at least in part, to authenticate participants' own 

experience in relation to the speaker's perspective. Here, 

too, the hegemonic assumptions implicit in this structure, 

as well as in the guidelines given for the group 

discussions, could be questioned. Is it helpful, or not, 

to ask individuals to begin a learning experience by 

writing and then discussing a topic cold, with almost no 

introduction or explication? What is the effect, then, 

when the authority, the speaker, perhaps overturns some of 

the ideas generated by individuals and groups? 


Participants could feel manipulated or devalued, rather 

than affirmed. With regard to the presentations 

themselves, do they serve to prompt critical reflection, 

questioning of assumptions and power relationships, are 

they catalytic, or do they in the end legitimate prevailing 

ways of thinking and knowing? And what difference, if any, 

does the point of their placement in the event make? 

The decision to use group discussions as a significant 

locus of learning in an event like this is fraught with 

hegemonic assumptions. We assume that small groups will be 

democratic, in the sense of offering everyone who wants one 

a voice in the discussion. We assume they will represent 

in miniature something of our vision for learning 

communities, in which critically reflective practice 

becomes a way of being for vibrant organizations. We 

assume the ideas they have the potential to generate may be 

transformational for the participants as well as for the 

organization. We assume that the group experience itself 

of generating fresh ideas may be transformational. We 

perhaps even assume that transformational learning is 

inherently superior and more to be desired than 

informational learning. Any of these assumptions may or 

may not be accurate; their idealism may or may not be 


realistic. The point, though, is that they become 

hegemonic; they, and others, drive our decision to make 

small group discussion a major part of professional 

development events. In fact, group discussions can easily 

flounder. They can just as easily be enormously 

frustrating as they can be potentially transformative. 

They quickly generate their own culture, nurture dominance, 

and can powerfully suppress rather than foster the 

expression of dissident opinion. They can actually become 

very efficient instruments for shutting down critically 

reflective practices, rather than encouraging them, and for 

reinforcing dominant perspectives and ways of thinking. 

Their democratic nature can actually end up working against 

them. When they report back to the whole, their reports 

are usually given, as was the case at this clergy day, by 

one representative, and represent a consensus of opinion, 

where consensus is possible (which may be only on 

relatively few points, and at that may obscure important 

dissensions), rather than in several voices representing 

the groups' truer diversity. Minority opinion, if 

presented at all, is usually presented as "minority," 

rather than giving each voice equal weight. Furthermore, 

at an event involving over 200 participants, as this one 



did, with at least ten or twelve groups, the constraint of 

time alone forces reports to be so concise as to call their 

validity into question. And, for some people, small groups 

simply are not supportive learning environments; some 

people are intimidated by them, endure them under great 

duress, and the agony of having to begin a learning event 

with an hour of small group discussion can ruin the whole 

rest of their day. 

The hegemony of design and structure, thus, can be 

seen to affect the learning that will happen. The process, 

how ideas are presented, their flow and development, has a 

certain determinative effect on consequent ideas. Foucault 

said power and knowledge are related; in the same way we 

could say as well that assumption and power are related. 

For example, we chose to ask first the question, "What is 

Christian mission?" and then to ask, "What biblical 

passage (s) inform(s) your understanding of Christian 

mission?" What difference might it have made if we had 

asked the questions the other way around, in the reverse 

order? The order given implies that there is a Christian 

mission that may then be supported by certain biblical 

passages, and one perhaps ought to think about mission in 

this sequence. Suppose, though, the order was inverted; 


what difference to thought and learning might it make? 

Suppose we had asked first, "What biblical passage (s) 

inform(s) your understanding of Christian mission?" and 

then, "What, therefore, is Christian mission?" In that 

sequence we might be inviting participants to think first 

about biblical passages, and then, about Christian mission 

as its definition may be derived from the passages. We 

pose questions, though, we invite speakers, and we 

structure group discussion time, for certain reasons, with 

a purpose and an assumption, an idea about learning, 

perhaps even agenda, in mind. To some extent, how we 

present the questions for discussion, and in what 

position (s) we schedule a speaker during the course of the 

day, indeed how we order the whole event, anticipates, even 

perhaps determines to an extent, the learning that may take 

place. Any way one asks questions, chooses a speaker or 

chooses not to have one, or structures an event anticipates 

certain responses and outcomes, betrays a prejudice. 

Structures do not necessarily lead to predetermined 

responses, of course, because courageous learners will 

break through structures. But, the hegemonic assumptions 

behind design and order have tremendous power to shape 

knowledge. They may limit the learning, or they may expand 


it. Either way, structure betrays agenda as it does 
prejudice; it leads thinking in a certain direction (s) ; and 
it has, inevitably, programmatic and political, as well as 
educational, consequences. 

There is always a tension in professional development 
between the organization's stated agenda, the learning the 
organization wants take place that will serve its needs and 
long-term interests, and the participants' agenda, the 
participants' interests in growth and development, desire 
for intellectual stimulation, and perhaps needs, both 
within and beyond the organization. Clearly, at this 
clergy day the organization wanted participants to think 
about mission, and perhaps even to think in a certain way 
about mission. Again, the structure contributes implicitly 
or explicitly to the direction in which thought may be 

The role of the facilitator for professional 

development events is also worth examining closely. It 

seems to me, as discussed in Chapter Six, that there are 

two key aspects of the facilitator's role. One is to 

facilitate whatever it may be that will prompt critical 

reflection in a given situation, and the other is to help 

create a supportive environment in which critical 


reflection can take place. While I still think the 
facilitator has an essential responsibility to provide and 
maintain a safe, supportive environment, I am also 
impressed with the facilitator's role in creating, so to 
speak, epistemic or learning space - space to see the 
dynamics of power and the hegemony of one's assumptive 
world, perhaps space for alternative ways of knowing to 
develop. Maybe as potent a catalyst to critical reflection 
as is any form of provocation (speaker, film, reflective 
process, etc . ) , is space to question power and, as 
Brookfield says, "hunt" assumptions. In this light, it may 
not always be the case that critical reflection needs to 
proceed from some epistemic crisis, from the disorienting 
dilemma in Mezirow' s analysis of transformative learning. 
Perhaps space can be as important a place from which to 
begin the critically reflective process, and likewise lead 
as possibly to transformations of basic perspectives and 
ways of putting the world together. 

At our Spring Clergy Day a number of respondents said 
something noticeably similar on the evaluation form. The 
evaluation form itself was modeled on Stephen Brookfield' s 


Critical Incident Questionnaire. The first question was, 
"At what point in this Clergy Day did you feel most 
engaged?" (Note that the positive, affirmative question 
was posed first.) To this question, a number of 
participants responded that they found the structure of the 
day's beginning, the exercise of writing a response 
individually to a question before hearing from a speaker or 
entering a discussion group, particularly engaging and 
helpful. They said it gave them initial space. They said 
they felt it led them more substantially into fruitful 
questioning and discussion in the groups. Several 
respondents, in fact, asked for more such opportunities, 
more space, during the day; two or three even said, in 
effect, that at the conclusion of the day they found 
themselves wishing we had provided far less structure to 
the event, and thereby provided far more space for a much 
more open exploration of the topic. The balance between 
space and structure, it seems to me, is a very fine balance 
to achieve. Nonetheless, I think the point is well taken 
that structure can serve to facilitate learning, but it 
also can serve to limit it. More of the open space 

See Appendix D. 


experience of even the first five or ten minutes of the day 

would likely have been worthwhile. 

On other counts, many participants responded that they 

felt most engaged during the group discussions, primarily 

because of the opportunity the discussions afforded for 

deepening collegial, peer relationships, fostering, as one 

person put it in an informal conversation afterwards, the 

experience of learning and contributing to the growth and 

development of the whole organization (the diocese) as a 

"college of presbyters.'' The majority found their group's 

discussion substantive and supportive of open inquiry. 

There were, on the other hand, as is almost always the 

case, some who "just don't like groups," and found the 

discussion group experience distancing. While some also 

reported feeling distanced during the lectures, 

interestingly, many more reported being significantly 

engaged with the presentations, even challenged in ways we 

might recognize as indicative of critically reflective 

learning processes. Although this Day's program did not 

explicitly purport to be about critical reflection, several 

participants said, in effect, that the speaker's 

provocative challenge to a number of hegemonic ideas about 

theology and ministry caused them to begin rethinking some 


of their own long-held assumptions about issues related to 

those ideas. Quite a few expressed great appreciation for 

the speaker's presentations on this account, especially as 

it set them thinking afresh, from a new perspective, about 

their own professional identities (in particular, one 

specific thought from the speaker, that priests might most 

properly be thought of the "mission motivators" in the 

church, was frequently mentioned as provocative.) While it 

might or might not be too much to call this 

transformational/transformative learning, it seems to me to 

be the mark of at least some degree of critical reflection, 

and exemplitive of the kind of adult learning and 

professional development that can proceed from critically 

reflective processes. It represents, possibly, a certain 

level of hunting after and surfacing of hegemonic, 

governing assumptions, and questioning the dynamic 

relationships of power and knowledge, self-understanding in 

this case. 

Other noteworthy comments from the evaluation included 

some that said the discussion groups proved difficult 

because leaders had not been previously assigned to them 

(groups were asked to lead themselves and choose someone to 

report to the whole, to be the group's spokesperson). 


Several said that they found the evaluation question asking 
when they felt "most distanced" a hard question to answer. 
A few said they were suspicious that some "hidden agenda" 
or "right answer" about the topic of "mission" itself was 
being put forth however subtly, that the organization 
really didn't want an open, critically reflective 
conversation about mission, but rather was seeking, subtly, 
to inculcate certain ways of thinking about mission, as if 
"from the top down." It seems to me, though, that the 
raising of that suspicion is always healthy in a learning 
organization, for it invites a continuous process of 
critical reflection on the very issues of power and 
hegemony. One of our hopes, in fact, in structuring the 
evaluation form as we did (with invitations for positive 
and negative reports, naming of insights gained, and a 
section for open-ended comments) was to engender just that 
kind of response. It seems to me that the lasting benefit 
of doing evaluations relentlessly is not only to solicit 
feedback about the event that has just taken place, but 
moreover to affirm the on-going process of reflection, 
growth, and development for designers and facilitators as 
well as participants. 


For those whose work it is to minister in the post- 
modern world, it seems to me that the kind of learning 
critical reflection engenders is essential to both our own 
growth and development, and our effectiveness with those we 
serve. Adult learning as critical reflection opens us to 
function creatively in a world of multiple, fluidly 
shifting realities and conceptions of what is true. 
Critical reflection encourages us to think, listen, and see 
from a variety of perspectives; it leads us to examine why 
and how we are the way we are, and how we could be 
different. Critical theory comes from what is now regarded 
as a central intellectual tradition in the history of 
Western thought. In a de-centered world, one in which we 
are learning to think off-handedly "on the one hand.. .on the 
other hand" (holding multiple truths/realities 
simultaneously), critical reflection's self-critical, 
perhaps even prophetic stance toward any established way of 
knowing commends it as a post-modern as well as a modern 
epistemology, and a still-viable path to freedom from the 
powerful bonds of our assumptive worlds. 


Chapter Eight 
Epistemologies of Context and Collaboration 
Rudimentarily, what reflective practice brings to the 
surface are our epistemologies, the way we each make sense 
of what we experience. In any group there will be people, 
not only who have different experiences, but who also make 
sense of their experiences in a variety of ways. A 
profound challenge in the work of professional development 
is to bridge what would otherwise be these divides, to 
provide learning opportunities for groups of diverse 
learners, who make sense differently, whose epistemologies 
may differ widely. How can we bridge these barriers so 
that we can learn and teach across epistemic bounds? As 
insights on learning and growth from constructive- 
developmental psychology have helped us approach this 
problem, so too can insights on theological pluralism from 
the field of contextual theologies, theologies that proceed 
from keen self-awareness of their contextualization in the 
place and time from which they come, also help us in this 
work. Indeed, contextualization is a characteristic of all 
theologies, and we are moving toward the point that all 
theologies are, in truth, contextual, and need to be viewed 

in pluralistic perspective. 


What epistemology or epistemologies, ways of knowing 
and making meaning, are implied by the method or methods 1 in 
contextual theologies? Are there approaches to knowing and 
meaning-making that may be inferred from the ways of doing 
theology that characterize contextual theologies? If so, 
how might these approaches to knowing and meaning-making be 
applied to practical issues in adult and professional 
development in the church, particularly the professional 
development of Episcopal clergy? What relevance do 
theological methods in contextual theologies, have for 
those concerned with design and process for the continuing 
education of ordained church leaders? Do they suggest 
models, or at least useful elements, that can inform 
educational practice for those concerned with professional 
development? Is there a process or set of concerns in 
contextual theologies that might inform processes for adult 
learning and professional development? What is the 

1 It seems to me that the terms "method" or "methods" here may 
themselves possibly be problematic in reference to contextual 
theologies. "Method" suggests a degree of reification, a setting of a 
way of thinking and operating, that may be less than appropriate when 
used in reference to contextual theologies. In that contextual 
theologies, by their nature, imply a degree of both fluidity and 
locality with respect to form, to suggest that a particular method or 
methods can be identified is perhaps to employ a misnomer with which 
authors of contextual theologies would be uncomfortable. Nonetheless, 
the term is used here at least to point to assumptions and theses that 
may be seen as characteristic of that to which we refer as "contextual 
theologies. " 


, i ( 

educational import of contextual theologies? What might 
clergy professional development, informed by insights from 
contextual theologies, look like? 

This chapter will attempt to address these questions 
and educational concerns, first by examining some aspects 
of contextual theologies that may suggest certain 
epistemological orientations and ways of making meaning 
relative to adult learning, and then by proposing ways of 
thinking about models for clergy professional development 
based on an understanding of method(s) and process (es) in 
contextual theologies. Three specific aspects of 
contextual theologies to be examined will be encounters 
with inherited traditions and worldviews, the notion of 
context itself, and the imperative for dialogue, or, as 
will be suggested here, a hybrid kind of conversation that 
will be connoted for our purpose here as "x-logue." It is 
not our purpose here to examine specific contextual 
theologies themselves in detail. Rather, the purpose is to 
draw epistemological generalizations from the field of 
contextual theologies, and engage them in conversation with 
educational concerns for adult growth and professional 
development, with specific regard to clergy. 


The origin of many contextual theologies, in jarring 
encounters with dominant, established, and most often 
Western theological traditions, is itself indicative of a 
distinctive approach to knowing and meaning making 
suggested by them. Contextual theologies arise, in part, 
when inherited theologies begin "to jar in people's ears." 2 
To put it another way, in the origin of contextual 
theologies there is often a dissonance, or perhaps more 
precisely a disjunction, between inherited ways of knowing, 
particularly symbols, and ways of knowing rooted in 
people's present experience. Forms of thinking and 
speaking inherited from the past or from some other 
culture's experience and worldview fail to resonate with 
forms of life in people's current living context. 
Moreover, the experiences of people in their context may 
often have been experiences of deep pain, hurt, 
deprivation, and oppression, felt personally and rooted 
systemically in such areas of their lives as economic, 
political, and social ones. Where people have been 
exploited, abused, de-humanized, made into the other, the 
forms of life and thought that helped create the condition 

2 A phrase used by Christopher Duraisingh in his course on contextual 
theologies at the Episcopal Divinity School. 


will hardly be experienced saving and life-giving. 
Specifically, any cultural or theological relationship, any 
connection, that may once have existed between the people's 
context and the ideas and symbols of what comes to be 
recognized as the oppressor, is lost to memory. At the 
point of this disconnection, when the dissonance between 
context and inheritance has grown audible and intolerable, 
there occurs, to borrow a phrase of Paul Tillich, 
"ontological shock." Something pricks the bubble of being 
in the inherited worldview; the world can no longer be held 
together as it used to be. There is now an awareness, a 
consciousness, that the way of being in the present is in 
discord with the inherited way of being. Certainly, to 
speak of the bubble of being as being pricked is almost too 
sanitized a way of speaking in this instance, for what we 
are almost always talking about is some painful and long- 
lasting experience of hurt and oppression in the lives of 
real people, experiences of suffering long endured in many 
forms, including but not limited to racism, sexism, 
cultural, economic, and political imperialism, colonialism, 
even enslavement and silencing of those who have been 
othered, both intellectually and materially, by a dominant 



The experience of transcending this situation has, in 
some sense, to be a revolutionary, or at least a 
subversive, act. There has to be a claiming of one's own 
experience and existentiality, one' s own history, place, 
and voice. Indeed, a very significant part of the struggle 
is to find out and know what these are. So long has one 
lived with the inherited world, even unaware of its 
oppressive nature, even enjoying certain benefits and 
privileges from the oppressor and assuming their inherent 
goodness, calling them and their provider good (their 
hegemony) , that it may be very difficult for a while to 
distinguish one's own authentic experience and voice from 
that of the oppressor. Even to know one's self as 
something unique and distinct from one's internalized self- 
consciousness as the other can be arduous and painful, so 
long has one's self-definition perhaps even been as the 
other. At first, one may perhaps know more readily who one 
is not, and may search through difficult self-revelations 
to know who one truly is. 

Beyond the point of ontological shock, however, there 

can be a re-imagining and reconstructing of worldview, a 

way of putting the world back together more meaningfully in 

relation to context and experience. One outcome of this 


work of reconstruction may be a more authentic expression 

of self - and, theologically speaking, of faith - more 

authentic both because it springs more directly from its 

author's own work of theological imagination, construction, 

and discourse, and because it is more directly rooted and 

related to her/his local context. It may even include 

elements remembered from one's past, but they would now be 

self-consciously included and included for the purposes of 

one's own making. Such moves can be seen readily in the 

encounters of African theologies with Euro-centric ones, of 

Central and South American theologies with northern ones, 

and of Feminist theologies with the male-gendered 

constructions of Western white traditions. On the other 

side of what may be seen to here as the epistemic crisis, a 

crisis of knowing in the inherited symbolic world, a 

subversion of symbols has to take place. There has to be a 

"going under," as Christopher Duraisingh often puts it in 

his classroom, a going beneath the normal ways of knowing 

and being. Symbols and their referents, every level of 

meaning making, must be questioned and, eventually, 

reformulated in a liberated and, hopefully, liberative and 

liberating way. Assumptions are deconstructed; oppression 

is named for what it is; suffering is exposed; the cries of 


victims begin to be heard; and a new voice emerges. Beyond 

the world in which one was held in subjugation to inherited 

forms of knowing and being is a liberated, liberative, and 

liberating world in which one holds symbols of one' s own 

imagining and making - not simply a reshaped world, but a 

new one made authentically and wholly of a process one has 

come to possess as one's own. Any elements of the 

inherited world that may be retained are reappropriated 

consciously and deliberately, as they serve the interests 

and needs of the author in his/her context, rather than as 

they served to keep the other in some form of imperialist's 

subjugation . 

Yet, even to describe the origins of contextual 

theology in the foregoing way is, ironically, to witness to 

a central issue contextual theologies seek to address. 

This observation too, as will be seen, may have deep 

implications for learning and teaching, for it demonstrates 

how power and hegemony shape the dominance of ideas and the 

ways of their comprehension. In large part the discussion 

above describes the origins of contextual theologies in 

terms of, and in relationship to, the inherited world. It 

describes contextual theologies in reference to the 

inherited world, indeed almost as if the inherited world is 


the given, upon and against which the world of contextual 

theologies is dependent for meaning. The symbols of the 

inherited world are the ones being subverted, according to 

this description. Subtly but powerfully the assumptions of 

the inherited world still lead and guide the discussion. 

They are the tacitly accepted ones, over and against which 

the world has to be reimagined. Their hegemony is 

unnoticed and unacknowledged until, in epistemic crisis, 

they come to consciousness, and are reflected upon 

critically with regard to the power and pervasiveness with 

which they have been allowed to lead, guide, and even 

oppress. Only then, as a criticality of consciousness and 

remembrance is brought to bear on them, can they be 

subverted, and the tasks of imagination, or reimagination, 

be undertaken fruitfully. 

To turn now briefly to context, it becomes clear that, 

in truth, all theologies are contextual. All theology and 

ways of doing theology are done in context. This truth 

becomes lost to memory when one or some become dominant and 

norm setting. But, part of the reality to which contextual 

theologies point is the boundedness of all discourse and 

imagination by contexts. Faith's expressions and the ways 

of their being known are inextricably tied to context, be 


that context defined by culture, society, politics, 

economics, geography, or by such particularities of human 

experience as may be shaped by factors like race, gender, 

class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and numerous others. 

Whatever context may mean specifically, contextual theology 

draws our attention to these material factors, to the lived 

situation in which God's revelation and the theologian's 

reflection takes place. Significant, too, is the 

understanding here of who a theologian is. The term 

theologian in contextual theologies does not necessarily 

presume formal training in an academic discipline, or even 

formal public authorization (ordination) . Rather, it 

connotes deep praxiological connection with the experience 

of faith, suffering, and love, and then faithful reflection 

upon that experience. What is primary is praxis, practice. 

Reflection follows from practice. This primacy of praxis, 

and this understanding of the theological enterprise, thus, 

points to the distinctive authority of one' s own context 

for meaning making. What is authoritative is one's place. 

In the lived experience of one's own life situation is the 

ground of meaning and being, which need not be subjugated 

to other authorities, inherited, imposed, or otherwise 

dominating. All are formed in context, and one's own 


formative and lived, context is as authoritative as some 

If then we are concerned for learning across 
diversities, a multiplicity of ways of knowing, what can we 
say of the other? What then of conversation between and 
among contexts? What then of possibilities for dialogue? 
Are contexts isolated, or do they in fact imply 
relationship with wider contexts? 

Implied in the primacy of context is also a 

distinctive understanding of self, which must always 

include the other. Implied in the primacy of context is an 

imperative to dialogue. Where context is primary, there is 

then no longer any pure individual. Rather, in that all 

are formed, and on-goingly so, in context, all are formed 

not independently but in relation, in dialogue. The self, 

and hence meaning, is fundamentally dialogical. One cannot 

do without the other. Where all theologies are contextual, 

all theologies need also to be in conversation with all 

others, and on an equal footing. The other side of the 

boundedness of all understandings and ways of knowing is 

their fluidity and permeability. Whereas part of the 

reality to which contextual theologies point is the 

boundedness of discourse and imagination by their contexts, 


the other, correlative, reality to which they point is the 
porousness of discourse and imagination, indeed of selves, 
across the boundaries of their contexts. Selves, like 
theological expressions, are inextricably tied to their 
contexts, but they, also like theologies, find meaning in 
dialogue with others. It is in the space between the self 
and the other, between contexts, that meaning emerges. 
Shotter and Billig look to the thought of Mikhail 
Bakhtin for an understanding of meaning as dialogical and 
relational, over and against more predominant psychological 
understandings rooted in "referential-representational 
forms of rationality." 3 They see in Bakhtin the 
possibilities for a "third sphere of events," a new kind of 
"whole" created in the space between individuals, which is 
neither of the individuals, but rather a third possibility 
that both have created and within which both participate. 
Context, thus, implies dialogue, for, while context is 
authoritative, meaning making takes place in the space 
between contexts, and the contexts themselves are changed 
through every interaction. Christopher Duraisingh, in his 
classroom, describes the dialogical process of knowing as 

3 John Shotter and Michael Billig, "A Bakhtinian Psychology: From Out of 
the Heads of Individuals and into the Dialogues Between Them, " in 
Bakhtin and the Human Sciences , 1988. 


"neither A nor B but C - neither me nor you but us," 
"C"/"us" being that which is created in the space between. 
This way of knowing as dialogical has contrasted noticeably 
with predominant Western ways of knowing through most of 
Christian history. In this long tradition, the normal way 
of doing theology has been "propositionally, " by putting 
forth axiomatic statements, propositions, about belief and 
practice, arguing the positions taken, defending 
convictions, and persuading others (sometimes even by 
force) to conform to orthodox positions, i.e., the 
positions of the majority or the more powerful. 

Christopher Duraisingh proposes a vision of the church 
based in the relational, dialogical, model as both 
"contextual and catholic," "catholic" here referring to the 
meaning of its etymological roots, "according to the 
whole." 4 The catholicity and commonality of the church is 
here found not wholly in any one local expression, 
authentic and authenticating as each is, but partially in 
each participant of dialogue and genuinely in the space 
between each. Catholicity/commonality emerges as a unique 

4 Christopher Duraisingh, "Contextual and Catholic: Conditions for 
Cross-Cultural Hermeneutics, " in Anglican Theological Review , vol. 
LXXXII: 4, Fall 2000, pp. 679-701. 


third position, in which each member or party participates, 
and in relation to which each defines itself. Moreover, 
there is, in a sense, not an end to this dialogue, or to 
the "selves" that are its parties, for it and they are 
always in formation and reformation, in a continuing 
process of "crossing over and coming back," as Christopher 
Duraisingh often puts it. In this vision, as Duraisingh 
says, the truths of God are the continually "revealed 
truths of a revealing God," and the work of the church 
universal is the continuous work of conversation among all 
its parts, out of and across the bounds of their various 
contexts. This way of thinking and talking about Christian 
truths obviates the reduction of any one participant' s 
position to the essential or core position against which 
others are compared for authenticity. It avoids the 
tendencies both to essentialism and to fundamentalism, to 
speaking of the experiences of others as essentially 
manifestations of the experience of a normative group, and 
speaking of the experiences of some as if they could be 
exclusive of those of others. Ultimately in this vision, 
both those who previously had othered as oppressors and 
those who had been othered, would reimagine themselves and 



reconstruct their relationship so that both stand on equal 
ground and make meaning in the spaces between them. 

What then does this mean for education? Are there 
elements in contextual theologies that are particularly 
relevant to educational concerns? Can the methods and 
processes, or more precisely the epistemologies, in 
contextual theologies inform methods and processes, 
epistemologies, or at least approaches, for adult learning 
and professional development? What dialogue might we 
construct between the fields of contextual theologies and 
adult learning and professional development? 

For clergy, grounding professional development in 

conversation, dialogue, is a useful place to begin. It is 

here that trust, necessary to growth in a safe environment, 

can be rooted. True collegiality can promote learning, 

just as learning together can promote collegiality; 

becoming a learning community of clergy depends on the 

integrity of relationships among those who would be part of 

learning conversations. That which is true of adult 

learners in general, is true particularly of clergy. Here 

we can return to the possible contribution of contextual 

theologies to the processes for clergy professional 

development. A learner is one who is in constant 


conversation with others, and with the other (s) s/he 

constructs within him/herself. A learner is in constant 

process of forming and reforming, imagining and 

reimagining, constructing and reconstructing. A learner 

comes to discover the authority of his or her own context 

for meaning making. A learner comes to take disturbances 

in the equilibrium of his or her context of knowing as 

opportunities for growth and development, and finds support 

in learning communities in which to pursue further growth 

and development. These characteristics of learners in 

general are all ones we would want to promote and support 

among clergy, and for which we can find example in the 

methods and practices of contextual theologies. 

As we have seen, a crucial part of the adult learning 

process involves making the familiar world strange, 

problematic, so to speak, so that the ordinary, off-handed 

assumptions upon which one has built one' s world can be 

brought to the surface and examined critically. Hegemony 

and power as determinants of ways of knowing are unmasked. 

Unlike children's learning that seeks to make the strange 

world familiar, adult-learning aims to unmask the 

familiarities so vigorously constructed at an earlier time, 

raise questions, and expose assumptions upon which world 


constructions are based. Reflexive responses, responses 
that have been habituated and upon which the learner has 
come to depend, have to be brought into critical light. 
The power of hegemonic assumptions that lead and guide us, 
about which we hardly think in our everyday lives, things 
that have us and to which we are subject, need to come to 
consciousness, so that they can be moved to places where we 
can hold them objectively and where our responses based 
upon them can become reflected, considered responses, 
rather than reflexive, impulsive ones. 5 The methods and 
processes in contextual theologies can elucidate and 
address all these concerns for adult learning in general 
and clergy professional development in particular. 

The origins of contextual theologies in "ontological 
shock" suggest a place to begin in relating contextual 
theologies to concerns for adult learning and professional 
development, particularly if by ontological shock we also 
can understand epistemic shock, shock to our assumed ways 
of knowing and putting together the world. Whereas 
contextual theologies can be seen to originate in jarring 

5 The terms here, again, are Robert Kegan's. See Robert Kegan, "What 
x Form' Transforms? A Constructive-Developmental Approach to 
Transformative Learning," in Jack Mezirow and Associates, Learning as 
Transformation , San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000, pp. 35-69. 


encounters with dominant, established, powerful, and even 

accepted traditions, an important move can be made from 

this point. In clergy professional development, like in 

many other areas of adult education, one of our chief aims 

is to surface those hegemonic assumptions upon which we 

have built our practice, but which often also end up 

undermining it, which can end up serving to keep us more or 

less the same, and, to an extent, contribute to keeping the 

institutions we serve more or less the same - static, 

changeless, undynamic. How might we come to think 

differently, such that we might be transformed, and better 

able to help transform the institution (s) in which we work? 

One of our goals might be to become more aware of the 

context of our positions and understandings, especially its 

problematic dimensions. As in the experience of contextual 

theologies, something has to prick the bubble of being, and 

of knowing. As we have seen before, there has to be some 

shock, some spur, some disruption to the system that 

triggers the potential for transformational learning. The 

present situation has to become problematic in order for 

the process of its solution or re-solution, re-formation of 

ways of knowing and making meaning, to begin. These spurs 

or prompts are the anomalies and disorienting dilemmas Jack 


Mezirow spoke of as precipitating transformation, triggers 
that can set in motion a learner' s process of going beneath 
or beyond his or her assumptive world. 6 Perhaps not unlike 
the dissonance in the ears of those for whom the inherited 
or imposed world ceased to fit with lived experience in the 
development of contextual theologies, the disorienting 
dilemma puts one in the place of needing to reconstruct the 
world. Symbols need new referents, or new symbols need to 
be created, and a new sense of self needs to emerge. 
Experience needs to be claimed and the authority of context 

In a real sense this process is deeply subversive, 
both on the part of the learner, whose developmental 
challenge is to subvert his or her own understanding, and 
on the part of those whose role it is to design 
opportunities for professional development. This raises a 
central ethical question in adult education for designers 
and teachers. How far does one go in problematizing, 
subverting, learners' contexts? At what point does such 
deliberate problematizing of context become manipulative, 
and hence reprehensible? When and in what ways should 

5 Jack Mezirow, "How Critical Reflection Triggers Transformative 
Learning," in Jack Mezirow and Associates, Fostering Critical 
Reflection in Adulthood , San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1990, p. 14 


designers and teachers insert themselves as prompts into 
the learning processes of others? What responsibilities do 
designers and teachers have for the potentially 
disorienting impact of subversive education on learners? 

As Brookfield and others have said, a supportive 
environment is essential to the learning process, one in 
which learners can safely discover the authority of their 
own contexts for meaning making, and enter freely and 
openly into dialogical learning relationships with others. 
Mezirow says, "Adult educators create protected 
environments in which the conditions of social democracy 
necessary for transformative learning are fostered. " 7 
Stephen Brookfield spoke of the necessity of creating 
learning environments that are "respectful, inclusive, and 
democratic." 8 What we need in clergy professional 
development is something like the dialogical epistemology 
evident in contextual theologies, which by its nature is 
particularly conducive to the cultivation of safe and 
supportive environments, where the risks of subversive 
education and transformational learning may be engaged 

' Jack Mezirow, "Learning to Think Like an Adult," in Jack Mezirow, 
Learning as Transformation , p. 31. 

3 Stephen D. Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher , San 
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995, p. 141. 


freely and without fear. Where the self is conceived not 

autonomously but relationally, where growth is understood 

not in terms of a finished product but a fluid, on-going 

process, where constructed worlds are seen as never frozen 

but always in flux and subject to change, where learning is 

fundamentally understood not as propositional and axiomatic 

but dialogically, we have a rich model for critical 

conversation for clergy professional development. So long 

as we think of adult learning and professional development 

as a propositional, didactic exercise, as the transmission 

of knowledge as information, something fixed at certain 

points in certain ways, rather than as the facilitation of 

transformation, we are in trouble. Learning that makes a 

praxiological difference, with potential to transform the 

learner and his or her institution, enabling him or her to 

think differently, is much more of the dialogical nature. 

It is learning that comes through the interaction of 

reflection and practice, analysis and context. It is 

learning that takes place in a constant interplay, 

interaction, among learners. It is learning that happens 

in the space between one's context and the whole, between 

teacher and learner, between self and other, between the 

world as one has constructed it - one's assumptions, and 


the world as it is coming to be - one' s transformation and 

the changes that are always emerging in one's ways of 

thinking and knowing. It is learning that happens in the 

space between two clergypersons, between one congregation 

and another, between one's parish and one's self, between 

one's own theological orientation and another's, between 

one's own community and the wider community of the Gospel's 

vision . 

Christopher Duraisingh speaks of the church as at once 

"contextual and catholic." What we can see among the 

clergy is perhaps a microcosm of this image. When we 

gather at a professional development event we come from 

widely differing contexts. Among our more formidable 

challenges is finding ways to live together at these 

events, and beyond them, as a learning community, as 

professional people who find truth and wisdom both locally 

and according to the whole, in conversation across the 

boundedness of the contexts out of which we come. Our 

challenge is not at all unlike the challenge faced in every 

cross-cultural conversation. Anindita Balslev puts it 

succinctly this way: "The challenge before us is not to 

validate a heritage or a culture at the cost of another but 

to perceive cross-cultural conversation as a mutually 


empowering dialogue that raises the consciousness of all 
the participants involved." 9 What we need in clergy 
professional development is a wide vision of its enterprise 
and purpose, something akin to this. Drawing on the 
thought of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Richard Bernstein points to 
"the practice of authentic dialogue" as the lens through 
which to see the possibility for conversation, and, by 
implication, learning, across bounds of differences and 
diversities. Bernstein seeks to show how through genuine 
dialogue we can learn and even come to reasonable judgments 
"without making claims to absolute finality." "Dialogue," 
Bernstein writes, "exhibits the rhythm of play where play 
itself has ontological primacy over the players. Thus, in 
a genuine dialogue, the dialogical partners are not merely 
^subjects' speaking to each other, but participants in the 
dialogue." 10 

Perhaps a place to which we need to come in the work 
of clergy professional development is, indeed, to a more 
profoundly social understanding of adult learning. The 
fundamental need of clergy from professional development 

9 Anindita N. Balslev, "Cross-Cultural Conversation: Its Scope and 
Aspiration," in Anindita N. Balslev, Cross-Cultural Conversation , 
Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996, p. 24. 

10 Richard J. Bernstein, "The Hermeneutics of Cross-Cultural 
Understanding," in Balslev, Cross-Cultural Conversation , pp. 37-39. 


that we need to address is not so much a need for more 

information, more training, but a need for more formation, 

especially the need for collegiality - formation as a 

community. The dialogical epistemologies suggested by 

contextual theologies draw us towards models of knowing and 

meaning making inescapably tied to communities. The 

dialogical model can help us negotiate bridges across the 

boundaries of the different contexts in which we live and 

from which we come, and it can give shape to the kinds of 

conversations and the kinds of learnings we can hope to 

nurture as a learning community of professional colleagues. 

In a dialogically based design, time spent together at 

such events as Clergy Days and Clergy Conferences might be 

spent largely in dialogue. Ground rules for dialogue would 

need to be habituated, such that, as with dialogue among 

churches from different world contexts, so with dialogue 

among clergy across the bounds of their differences - be 

they the differences of ideology, ministry setting, 

background, or any others - no one context become the 

essential context, but the understandings created be held 

mutually, as something common among all but distinct from 

any one. It seems to me that a framework such as this for 

professional development stands a better chance of 



encouraging the deep and substantial dialogue out of which 

lasting meaning, meaning of consequence, can be made. Such 

a framework can be rooted in an epistemology emphasizing 

the relational nature of ideas and thought. Such a 

framework might even go a long way toward encouraging 

clergy to explore and share among one another their 

failures and deep questions, the things with which they 

themselves struggle to do more faithfully, and to learn 

from those things as much if not more than from their 

successes and the things they already do well. If the 

environment is experienced as safe, we can, in dialogue, 

subvert the known world, and open up new ones. What 

meaning might we make, from both our failures and our 

successes, that might make a difference to the ways we 

practice in our professional lives tomorrow morning, or 

next week? With what assumptions behind the ways we 

practice do we need to be in greater dialogue with our 

colleagues, or even within ourselves? To make meaning 

together through dialogue is to become a learning 

community. It is to participate in the liberative and 

liberating reconstruction of symbols, known "catholically" 

and lived "contextually." And, where the parties of 

dialogue share in producing insight that is the essential 


possession of none of them, but in which they all have an 
essential stake, bridges across bounds of difference become 
buildable . 

Yet, even "dialogical" may not be the final or most 
accurate descriptor of a way of knowing adequate to our 
contemporary task in clergy professional development. 
While we would not want to reify any descriptor, perhaps a 
more accurate one, provisional though it must be, could be 
"x-logical." Even "dialogue" can be construed as exclusive 
today, for the genuine partners in learning conversations 
now can less and less be "two;" they must more and more be 
many, in fact innumerable. The kinds of conversation to 
which we are called today must increasingly be imagined as 
something more like "x-logues," in which "x" represents the 
multifaceted, multi-voiced, "many" nature of these 
conversations, and hence of the community of learners 
itself, and we must speak of conversation, and knowing, as 
happening not simply in the space between partners but in 
the areas among many diversities. 

The Bible witnesses to a God who seeks endlessly to 

engage humanity in conversation about meaning and purpose. 

And the reality to which this God calls men and women is 

not static but endlessly dynamic, changing, yet to be fully 


realized. Jesus in the Gospels, especially in the 
parables, was constantly challenging those who would listen 
to examine the assumptions upon which they had constructed 
their worlds, and rethink their understandings of issues 
and topics they encountered in the context of their 
ordinary lived experience. God calls us still to the same 
tasks, with respect to the concerns before us in the places 
where we are. These are rudimentary tasks of clergy 
professional development today. 


Chapter Nine 
Immunity and Change 

How we know, and even who we are as knowers, thus, are 
central concerns for clergy professional development. 
Still, despite all our work to encourage reflective 
practice and support transformational learning, we often 
remain remarkably resistant to, even immune from, 
permanent, substantive change in our institutions, as well 
as individual practitioners, even as knowers. Though we 
profess to want to learn and grow, though we trumpet new 
visions, new understandings, and enlightened ways of 
carrying out ministry, much of the time, we have to admit, 
not a lot changes, either for us or for the church. 
Dialogical, or "x-alogical, " critical conversations are far 
more easily imagined than realized. Why is that, and what 
can we do about it? 

At a committee meeting I was chairing to plan a 

professional development event, a colleague burst out, 

after someone else who had presented an outline of goals 

for the upcoming event had left the room, "He still doesn't 

get it!" (referring to the person who had just left). I 

was taken aback, not because of my colleague's behavior, 

but because I didn't know what he meant. What had been 



presented seemed perfectly reasonable to me. It was a plan 

for presentations and group discussions on a topic we had 

all endorsed on several prior occasions. It had been, at 

least in part, our suggestion that this event be an 

opportunity for presenters to offer teachings on a current 

topic in the life of the diocese. Our committee's role in 

giving shape and format to the event seemed clear. Why 

then was I so surprised by my colleague's remark? It 

seemed to come out of the blue. What assumption on my part 

lead me to accept readily the plan as I saw it unfolding in 

what had been presented, and to react with near 

speechlessness at what my colleague said? To what was I 

subject? Of what assumption about the nature of education, 

and professional development in particular, might my 

reaction be indicative? What might such an assumption, and 

then the questioning of it, imply about learning and 

teaching with respect to design and process for 

professional development? How might the holding of this 

assumption, uncritically, by one involved in the task of 

planning a professional development event for colleagues, 

reinforce an internal system of self protection, the immune 

system as Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey called it, to keep 

the world as it is, and effectively prevent change that we 


would otherwise say we desire - both substantive, 
institutional change relative to the topic with which we 
were dealing and fundamental change in our approach to 
clergy professional development, i.e. our proclaimed desire 
to become and function in an on-going way as a learning 
community? In short, what transpired in the moment of my 
reaction to my colleague that indicates the operation of a 
hegemonic assumption, one with power to lead me to react in 
a way that would maintain the world unchanged? 

I believe my reaction had to do with something deep 
about the nature of learning and teaching, perhaps more 
precisely with issues in the very nature of knowledge 
itself, ways of knowing, epistemology . My sense was, and 
is even more now, of an issue in epistemology with perhaps 
special relevance to the work of professional development, 
particularly as applied to the continuing education and 
development of ordained ministers. 

I have long had considerable passion for the 

challenges of creating learning communities of professional 

peers around common institutional goals, and bridging some 

of the boundaries of difference that seem often to so 

characterize us as a professional group and limit both our 

individual growth and the development of the institution we 


serve. Nonetheless, in spite of my passion and that of 
others (or maybe because of it) we continue more or less 
the same. What might enable us, I often have asked myself, 
to break through some of the barriers that either exist or 
that we have unwittingly created, and that inhibit us from 
becoming this learning community of our dreams and 
proclamations, meeting these challenges of our diversity 
more effectively? What might lead us truly to change, and 
hence become more thoughtful agents of change, leaders of 
transformation informed by our own transformative learning 
experiences, in both our own institution and the wider 

Sometimes the things for which we have great passion 
are also the ones that have great hold on us, the ones that 
have great power to keep us in subjugation to them. They 
are the ones, literally, that have us. Gaining distance on 
things we are passionate about is hard, risky work. But, 
failing to do so, especially in the area of professional 
development where the welfare of others is inherently 
always at stake, runs the risk that, in the end, we remain 
more part of the problem than the solution. We end up 
being, as Robert Kegan puts it, "good company for the wrong 



journey." 1 Examining our own participation in the problem 
is essential. Hence, the disturbing but necessary 
question, the question with power to disrupt and subvert 
the equilibrium of our self- justifying worldviews, where 
surprises are relatively few and mild, and comfort and 
control are easy to come by: In what system of immunity to 
change do I participate; to the power of what hegemonic 
assumption am I subject, that, once named, might free me, 
and perhaps by extension my colleagues, to live more fully 
into the visions we have set for ourselves, and even ones 
we have not yet imagined but that will yet be part of our 

Kegan says in his classroom that we need to develop a 
muscle for reflective practice. What we learn when we do 
so is that behind every way of putting the world together 
is an assumption that leads us to react one way or another. 
Uncritically held, these assumptions tacitly confirm us in 
the world where we are comfortable, and bring us suddenly 
up short when we have stepped, often unaware, beyond the 
place of our familiarity and control. Critical distance 
enables us to enter these less familiar, more risky arenas, 

1 Robert Kegan, In Over Our Heads: the Mental Demands of Modern Life , 
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994, chapter 10. 


and function in less well-known territory in light of 

knowledge of our assumptions about the world, rather than 

because of them. Why did I suddenly feel lost at the 

committee meeting, in the place that otherwise normally 

felt so familiar and secure to me, the world of adult 

learning and professional development? Why, when my 

colleague burst out, "He still doesn't get it!" was I so 

surprised and lost for words? The answer, it seems to me, 

lies in some fundamental assumption I was holding, or more 

precisely perhaps that was holding me, about the nature of 

education, even the method of knowing, itself. As at least 

an initial hypothesis, I have come to put my assumption 

this way: I was operating at that moment from an 

assumption that education, and knowledge, is didactic, that 

it proceeds through the putting forth of statements and 

ideas in declarative, defensible form. The proposal we had 

heard fit this vessel of understanding, my assumptive 

world, to a tee, for me. It sounded perfectly normal. 

Indeed, it sounded good. It sounded like the way we often 

have done continuing education about the practice of 

Christian ministry, at least the way I have often 

experienced it. What would we normally do? We would 

normally hear presentations, engage in small-group 


discussions about the presentation and how it might apply 

to our ministry settings, and then report summations of our 

small-group discussions to the whole group. To my 

colleague, though, the proposed outline didn't sound good 

at all, even if it was how we had often done things in the 

past. For my colleague, education had to do with something 

very different. My colleague's way of knowing wasn't 

habituated didactically at all. For my colleague's way of 

knowing, this was all too crafted, more opportunity for the 

language of argument and persuasion, and far too little 

focus on process and relationship, dialogical knowing 

perhaps. What sounded reasonable to me sounded so because 

it confirmed an assumption I was holding without question, 

and it did so even though I myself often profess support 

for the way of knowing represented by my colleague' s 

perspective. My colleague's remark broke open the world of 

that assumption. 

The point here is not to show the relative adequacy or 

inadequacy of didactic, dialogical, or any other styles to 

the task of professional development. It is rather to 

show, again, how the assumptive world associated with a way 

of thinking and speaking can function so powerfully in a 

situation so as to keep one (or even a whole institution) 



from seeing things the way they are or have been. 
Assumptions function this way at both the personal and 
institutional level, as part of our epistemic immune 
systems. Assumptions maintain. They prevent us from 
changing, even, ironically, as we may proclaim our desire 
to change. In Osterman and Kottcamp' s language, they 
reinforce the theories we actually use, out of which we act 
daily, in spite of the nobler theories we may espouse. 2 As 
the example demonstrates specifically, they can lead us who 
would plan and facilitate professional development events 
to approach those events in ways that, often, will tend to 
perpetuate the same ways of thinking and acting. They lead 
to self-confirming, self- justifying, self-perpetuating 
methodologies of knowing and educating. That is their 
hegemonic quality and power. 

Becoming critically aware of all that is at stake in 
how we approach clergy professional development, and the 
power involved in design and process, may help move us out 
of the cycles in which we have become entrenched. So much 
in our training as clergy, like in other fields, 
acculturates us to certain ways of practicing and thinking 

2 Karen F. Osterman and Robert B. Kottkamp, Reflective Practice for 
Educators , Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1993. 


about our practice, and often to the good. But, because of 
that, it often doesn't occur to us that we could do things 
differently. Much of our experience as clergy may actually 
end up functioning as an immune system that later inhibits 
our professional development. Awareness of how self- 
protected we can become may go a long way, it seems to me, 
toward clarifying and improving the work of those charged 
with responsibility for the design and process of clergy 
professional development. 


Chapter Ten 
Risking Life in the Two-wheeled World 

To ask to have your training wheels taken off is to 
take an enormous risk. It is the risk at the heart of all 
learning, to leave an old world and enter a new one. As we 
learn to ride a bicycle without training wheels we will 
sometimes balance just right and have a great ride. Other 
times we will make a mistake and fall down. But, we will 
learn from both. To do so, though, we have to risk. 
First, we have to risk asking to have the training wheels 
taken off, and then we have to risk getting on the bicycle 
and setting off to ride. In that moment, all that we can 
know about our assumptions, and all that we can have by way 
of motivation, support, and bridges to the new world will 
make all the difference to the power of our learning. 

The same is true of the learning that can come from 
professional development. Encouragement, resources, and 
the magical combination of appropriate challenges and 
supports, meaningful prompts and safe environments, make 
for learning that can make a difference to how we work, 
think, and live. But, there is no diminishing the risk at 
stake in any new learning at any age. 


To design and lead processes for professional 
development is to engage in risky behavior, for is to lead 
others as well oneself into uncharted territory. To know 
from our own reflective practice what is at stake in the 
enterprise of transformational learning is the core task 
for designers and facilitators. The best leaders are also 
the most relentless learners. Our modeling of seeking to 
know the assumptions upon which we ourselves make meaning 
will be the most liberating aspect of our work for others. 
We are never done with our growth and learning. But, we 
can't do all that we need to do by way of growing and 
learning as reflective practitioners alone. To make 
meaning together, and build bridges across bounds of 
difference, we need a to be part of a learning community. 

Among the core values of professional development 
education as I see it, and that I have attempted to hold at 
the heart of this work, would be these: 

• Attention to the on-going processes of world 
construction and human development, which are the 
lifelong tasks of us all 

• Providing of such challenges and supports by 
designers and facilitators of professional 
development opportunities, at every step of the 
way, as are appropriate to the diversity of adult 
learners and the variety of their ways of knowing 
present in any given situation or event 


• Encouragement of such critically reflective 
practices, and space, as will help learners bring 
to the surface the assumptions and relationships 
of power that are otherwise taken for granted in 
the worlds in which we are embedded 

• Building bridges from familiar worlds to strange 
ones, and then taking the risk to enter to new 
ones, and providing such holding environments for 
this journey as can make the journey deeply 
meaningful and worthy of the time and energy it 
demands, as learners recognize those things to 
which they have been subject and develop ways to 
have objective relationships with them 

• Authority of learners' own experience and context 

• Fostering dialogical ways of knowing, and the 
mental capacities to live happily and creatively 
in a pluralistic, multi-axial, world 

It has been the thesis of this project that uncovering 

our assumptions can free us to design more effective ways 

of doing clergy professional development, and ministry. I 

close by offering in brief a proposal for how I might now 

re-imagine approaching the kind of clergy professional 

development for which our Clergy Day of April 25, 2002, the 

case study presented in Chapter Seven, was designed. A 

powerful concept widely applied in school settings today is 

that of teaming: grouping teachers in teaching teams, both 

for the sake of teaching (doing their work) and for 

learning together (pursuing their professional 

development) . The concept of teamwork as the locus of both 


work and professional development seems highly suggestive 
and full of possibility for application to the task of 
clergy professional development in the church. 

I was recently struck in a personally transformative 
way as I listened to Kim Marshall, for several years 
principal of the Mather Elementary School in Cambridge, 
Massachusetts, identify "teamwork" as one of the essential 
components of successful school improvement plans he has 
seen in his career. Kim Marshall spoke of how radical an 
idea it was only a few years ago that teachers might be 
organized within a school both to draw on one another for 
the variety of strengths and expertise each brings to a 
given teaching task, and for their mutual learning, their 
own professional development, as their teamwork becomes the 
locus for that learning and development. 

I was taken aback as I began to translate what Kim 

Marshall was saying to the church setting, imagining clergy 

deployed to congregations, or, more provocatively, to 

proximate geographic areas, in teams, not only to draw on 

each others' strengths and abilities in doing ministry, but 

moreover to learn together, making the team the primary 

locus for their professional development. This concept 

seemed more than powerful and potentially applicable; it 


seemed revolutionary. In constructive-developmental 
language, it prompted me to think of what it might be to 
which I myself have been subject as a leader who has helped 
create holding environments for clergy professional 
development, such that until now I didn't see it this way. 
Why before had I not seen the potential of such an idea? 
Though for a long time I have been taken with the idea of 
building learning communities, why had I not recognized the 
power and applicability of the idea applied this way? I 
think one reason has to do with the hegemony of the one- 
parish/one-priest model of ministry around which we have 
structured so much of church life for so long, and of the 
learning event - e.g. , Clergy Days/Conferences - as the 
principal way of doing professional development. 

Whatever the reason (s), I felt a deep resonance 
between my experience in the church and Kim Marshall's in 
the school when, later, I read a reflection he had written 
on his frustrations over staff development at one point at 
the Mather School. He wrote, 

"We spent very little time talking about teaching and 
learning, and did not develop a sense of schoolwide 
teamwork. The result? Teachers continued to work as 
private artisans, sometimes masterfully, sometimes with 


painful mediocrity - and the overall results continued to 
be very disappointing." 1 

In a way, I think we could sometimes translate the same to 

a lament for the clergy. We spend, in truth, relatively 

little time actually talking together about the practical 

work of our ministry, or developing a sense of teamwork 

about it. In fact, can sometimes seem that we actually 

spend considerable time and energy avoiding both of these 

professional development tasks. We continue to work mostly 

as "private artisans," lone rangers, as we often say. 

Sometimes we minister brilliantly, but it is also 

otherwise, and the overall effect can seem like little 

change and a lot of puzzlement about why in aggregate we 

are not more effective. In Kegan and Lahey' s language, we 

keep ourselves basically immune from change. 

Professionals whose primary locus of development is 

the team through which they work discover naturally that 

which Stephen Brookfield called the authority of their own 

experience; the team is the place not only of their best 

Kim Marshall), "A Principal Looks Back: The Impact of Standards on 
School Change" in The Harvard Educational Review , 2003, 3. 


work, but also their most meaningful growth. 2 Our goal then 
becomes the optimizing such holding environments. 

If one of Kim Marshall' s goals is changing schools to 
achieve improvements in students' learning, one of mine is 
changing the church to improve the effectiveness of its 
ministries. Beyond the work of ministry, though, the 
understanding of professional development as primarily 
located at the level of the team seems tremendously rich. 
Perhaps making such a scheme happen would bear on 
deployment decisions, and would become a matter of 
discernment for the area and diocese, beyond individual 
local congregations. There would be issues to sort through 
about the compatibility of members of teams as learners, in 
the sense that Kegan pointed to different ways adults in 
any group will make meaning, and about how the impetus for 
learning among the team would be kept lively, lest it fall 
subject to its own constructions of knowledge and practice, 
and lose its incisive edge. Stephen Brookfield cautions 
that one's own experience, while vital to learning, cannot 
be the sole authority for reflection. 3 While teams might be 
more effective in doing ministry, and full of potential for 

2 Stephen D. Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher , San 
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995, 66. 

3 Ibid., 70. 


professional development, a wider context is still needed 

to assure the balance of support and challenge at both 

individual and organizational levels. 

While it would be too much to say that, in retrospect, 

our clergy day of April 25, 2002 would not have happened if 

the foregoing, perhaps radical proposal of teaming clergy 

for both ministry and professional development were to be 

implemented, it seems to me that there is much we could 

adapt from this model for the benefit of all who find their 

life and make meaning in the church. It could well be that 

our ordained ministry would be more effective. It could 

well be that the on-going commitment to growth and learning 

we want for our clergy would be more vibrant. If we could 

transcend our assumptions, and the various powers we have 

vested in the parochial model, perhaps John, Susan, and 

Tom, the subjects of our inquiry in Chapter Four with whom 

so many of us might sympathize, would find that together 

they have more than the requisite capacities to meet the 

challenges of ministry they face in their situations, and, 

moreover, innumerable resources in one another as 

companions for their learning and growth. Perhaps their 

solution was within them all along, but often we can only 

know that in relationship with our fellow human beings. 


Appendix A 

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts 

138 Tremoiit Street 

Boston, Massachusetts 02111 

(617) 482-5800 

Spring Clergy Gathering 

Conversations about Mission 


The Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas 

Associate Professor of World Mission, 
Global Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School 

Thursday, April 25, 2002 
9:00 a.m. -4:00 p.m. 

at the Campion Center in Weston 

319 Concord Road 

781/894-3199 or 894-0751 

Joyful music, sharing ideas, Eucharist 

Clergy contribution: $20 in advance 
Register by April 12' by mailing in enclosed registratu iform 

At this point in the diocesan discernment process regarding 

Mission Strategy - it is important to ask, "What is God's 

mission?" The Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas will help us understand it 

is not about numbers. We want to hear from everyone in our 

conversations together. Your prayers, ideas, experience and 

support are critical to the work of discernment and the future 

mission of our diocese. 

(see Directions on reverse side) 


Appendix B 

Clergy Day, April 25, 2002 

9-9:20 Morning Rite 

9:20 Write individual responses to Question 1, a. and b 

9:25-10:15 Groups discuss responses to Question 1, and appoint 
spokesperson to report back to whole* 

10:15-10:30 BREAK 

1 0:30- 1 1 Groups report to whole 

1 1-1 1:45 Lecture by Ian Douglas, concluding with distribution of 
Question 2 for afternoon discussion 

11:45-12 Midday Rite 

1 2- 1 LUNCH (pick up box lunches outside auditorium; dining room 

capacity is 80 people, so please disperse to other areas of the 
building/grounds, and return promptly by 1:00) 

1-1:30 Groups discuss Question 2 

1 :30-2:30 Lecture by Ian Douglas, with Q&A 

2:30-3 Discussion with Bishops 

3-3:45 Day's End Rite 

*Groups 1, 2, 3, and 4 in York Auditorium, Ground Level 

Group 5 in Southwell Lounge, Third Floor 

Group 6 in Avila Room, First Floor 

Group 7 in Canisius room, First Floor 

Group 8 in Arrupe Room, Ground Level 

Groups 9 and 10 in Curtis room, Ground Level 

(See map of building on reverse for locations of group meeting areas.) 


Appendix C 

Question 1 

a. What is Christian Mission? 

What biblical passage(s) inform your understanding of mission? 

Question 2 

How does the mission of God relate to your understanding of the Church, particularly as 
you imagine your congregation participating in God's mission? 


Appendix D 
Clergy Day, April 25, 2002 
"Conversations about Mission" 

1.) At what point in this Clergy Day did you feel most engaged? 

2.) At what point in this Clergy Day did you feel most distanced? 

3.) What insight from this Clergy Day impressed you the most? 

4.) Please offer any additional comments on either the program or arrangements for this Clergy 
Day that might be helpful in future planning. 

This form adapted from The Critical Incident Questionnaire," by Stephen D. Brookfield. 

See Stephen D. Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995, 

chapter 6. 



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